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Relevant issues for this story, separated by commas (eg. war, race, gender):
Poverty, Race
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North America
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USA, New York, Syracuse, Education, Youth
A short summary for this story that will go on the stories page (1-2 sentences):
Comparing test scores between the white, affluent schools in Central New York, and those of high schools similar to Fowler High School in Syracuse, NY, the achievement gap is undeniable. Our nation is in desperate need of strong educational reforms, but the first step towards this is informing the public, as this story does, by showing the life of one student.
Veronica Wilson

2007 — student award of excellence

One of America’s largest and most pressing social issues is the achievement gap, seen rampant throughout the nation’s public school system. This project visually shows this gap, bringing this issue to the forefront of people minds.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, social workers, teachers, and politicians were working furiously to decrease the gap that has historically existed between rich and poor children when it comes to public education. The work of these dedicated people paid off, and a nation wide improvement was suddenly seen. However, in the past decade and a half, this improvement has plateaued, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

The achievement gap, defined as the existing inequalities between groups of students (typically categorized by race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status) and their school performance, has become somewhat of a hot topic in recent politics. Reform programs, such as President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act have attempted to remedy this issue.

Joseph Gonzalez, a fourteen-year old Puerto Rican living on the south side of Syracuse, is a portrait of his problem. Motivated and goal oriented, Joseph has dreams of one day becoming an undercover police officer. However, his academic path is tainted with a variety of challenges he must face. Joseph attends Fowler High School, which is primarily African American and Latino, whose standardized test scores fall way below average, and are much lower than the test scores of nearby, primarily white schools.

A typical school day for Joseph is fairly relaxed, including gym class and a long lunch period. It fails to really challenge him. Although he takes a few classes that are geared towards students with a lower learning curve, he is often only asked to complete assignments that involve coloring and minimal critical thinking. Aside from dealing with the struggles that are often presented to youth in poor areas, (gangs, violence, drugs, etc.). Joseph also has to rise above a school system that does not expect, and or encourage, him to continue on to higher education.

This work documents Joseph’s daily challenges, which often times include distracting classroom behavior by his peers, unengaged teachers, and chaotic home life. On some occasions, Joseph’s coping mechanisms simply involve sitting down and playing video games. Other times he turns to basketball and friends to distract himself from his difficulties in school. Another large aspect of Joseph’s life is his faith, which I will show by accompanying him to church. His mother is a pastor at a local Lutheran church, and Joseph says that faith and God are very important to him. This is an interesting detail that shows how he, like many other children in similar situations, lean on the church for support they are not getting elsewhere.

Joseph attends an after school program that is run through the non-profit organization the Spanish Action League, in downtown Syracuse. Due in part to his parents’ long and demanding work schedules, the League is the best place for Joseph to be after school. “If I was just out walking on the streets and stuff, people would be asking me for weed,” Joseph said. “And I don’t do that stuff”.

Facing problems of peer pressure such as these is indicative that Joseph needs some positive force to counter such negativity. I believe that this is, in large part, the school’s responsibility. Schools should be helped accountable for educating and motivating their students. Comparing test scores between the white, affluent schools in Central New York, and those of high schools similar to Fowler, the achievement gap is undeniable. Our nation is in desperate need of strong educational reforms, but the first step towards this is informing the public.

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Joseph Gonzalez is a fourteen year-old who's parents moved from Puerto Rico to Syracuse, NY, only months before he was born. Attending a public school with low test scores and poor statistics, Joseph is a portrait of the nation's problematic educational achievement gap. Struggling to get a decent education, so that he can one day become an undercover police officer, Joseph attends the Spanish Action League Youth Center, which is a pro-education, non-violence and non-drugs after school program. Veronica Wilson/Alexia Foundation
Joseph often has a hard time staying focused on and optimistic about his school work, especially math. Joseph attends the Liberty Partnership Program at Fowler High School three times per week where volunteer teachers help him with work he has either missed or is having trouble with. LPP is geared towards helping intelligent students that have one or more extraneous factors stacked against them, like attendance in Joseph's case, according to LPP volunteer Mrs. Lagrow. Veronica Wilson/Alexia Foundation
"My mom says that I can't drop out of school," Joseph says jokingly. A full-time working mother, Ms. Gonzalez, who brought her family to America in 1992, is strict but loving with Joseph, and always encourages him to do his homework. Veronica Wilson/Alexia Foundation
On a snowy day in mid April Joseph and friends Miguel Quevedo, center, and Christian Cruz, walk through the mall after school. The boys, who were driven by the coordinator of the after school program sponsored by the Spanish Action League admit that they like to go to the mall to find cute girls more than to shop. Veronica Wilson/Alexia Foundation
Joseph takes a moment during his time at the Liberty Partnership Program, which he attends three times a week, to think about his work. He had missed the previous day of his algebra class, and is trying to do the day's assignments regardless, with some confusion. Veronica Wilson/Alexia Foundation
Joseph's favorite sport is basketball.  Although he won't try out for his high school's team (because, he says, he wouldn't want to practice according to the coach's schedule) he enjoys playing on the public courts around Syracuse. When weather permits, a coordinator from the Youth Center will take some of the teens, and supervise them as the play. Veronica Wilson/Alexia Foundation
Joseph and his classmates rise for a mandatory reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance during their fourth period class. Joseph says he is very proud to be an American citizen. Veronica Wilson/Alexia Foundation