2007 — student award of excellence
Veronica Wilson was born and raised in Northern California, and followed her desire for newness and adventure when she headed east to attend school at Syracuse University to get a degree in photojournalism. In the five years since graduating, she has continued chasing a passion for storytelling and an unshakable interest in advancing social causes. Navigating from an NGO in East Africa, to newspaper internships, to a nonprofit branding agency, she has most recently arrived at a mission-driven start-up called Recyclebank (www.recyclebank.com). Working in strategic planning, Veronica helps some of the world’s most influential brands connect with consumers through the lens of sustainability, launching campaigns that reward consumers for taking more environmentally conscious actions. Though it may seem a long distance away since she last actively had a camera in her hands, Veronica’s ‘crooked’ path has made sense every step of the way. And the influence of the craft and experience of photojournalism has delightfully infiltrated all that she continues to pursue.
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.