You would never guess that Victory Collegiate is located in one of the most diverse and wealthy cities in the world: my school was 90 percent black, 7 percent Hispanic, and had a few Arab and South Asian kids. Most of us qualified for free lunch.
One day, in my AP Biology class, a bullet flew into the classroom, lodging itself in the whiteboard, missing our heads by inches. The teacher was so traumatized that she never returned. But we, the students, were back in the same room two days later. A rotation of substitutes, unqualified to teach the course, monitored us the rest of the year. None of us passed the end-of-year exam.
As the son of two poor immigrants, neither of whom are fluent in English, I already had obstacles in my path, but by that point, I knew that my educational environment had become one, too.
My story is not unique. New York City has at least 124 small high schools where fewer than 1 in 5 students enters the school having passed the 8th grade state English exam. At Victory Collegiate, that number was 1 in 20. At some schools the number is zero. These schools are, on average, 92% black and Hispanic.