I had just started the eighth grade at my new middle school in a new school district. I was excited to start Algebra I; however, my new counselor had different plans for me. She placed me in Pre-Algebra because my report card did not state that I had taken the prerequisite class to Algebra I.
My mom and I tried to explain to my counselor that my previous math teacher had recommended that I take Algebra I due to my high performance in her class. We explained that my previous math class, marked as only seventh-grade math, was the equivalent to Pre-Algebra. Our protests were met with a dismissive and firm no. My new counselor was adamant that I was not prepared for the rigorous course, and I was sent to the school trailer that held my Pre-Algebra class.
As a student who had dreams since elementary school to attend Princeton University, I was distraught. The overly anxious academic that I was at the time really believed that her chances to attend an Ivy League school were over. I knew that being in this class would subject me to the lower track in math that would be near impossible to escape. My desire to be challenged and to be a part of higher academia felt like it was being snatched away from me.
I tried to make the best of Pre-Algebra by trying to be engaged, but I was soon bored and unchallenged. For every 100 that I received on an exam, I became increasingly complacent –and my mom became increasingly frustrated.
A newfound determination to seek justice for my education sparked after I discovered that a student had been placed in my Pre-Algebra class because she could not handle her Algebra I class. When I asked the student what made Algebra I hard, she explained that her prior homeschooling had not taught her Pre-Algebra. My mind raced as I had wondered why she had been given a pass, and I had not. I tried not to think about the obvious unfairness and the skin tone and socioeconomic differences that may have afforded her the opportunity to prove herself worthy of handling the rigorous math coursework.
Upset, I shared this with my mom, who then confided in my Quiz Bowl coach. That coach had seen potential in me at the beginning of the school year and asked me to join the team. She was appalled at the situation and used her influence to speak to the math teachers to allow me to visit the advanced math class during my regular Pre-Algebra class hours. They gave me two weeks of visiting the class to see if I could keep up. As my mom, my Quiz Bowl coach, and I expected, I not only kept up, but I excelled. I was finally admitted into Algebra I for the second semester of eighth grade.
I am so thankful for my Quiz Bowl coach who advocated for me and saw potential. My guidance counselor could not see the potential in a young black girl raised by her single mom, yet she could see the potential in a young white girl being homeschooled by her two parents. The lesson I learned was the importance of giving every student a fair chance to succeed and holding them to high expectations and standards. My story is not uncommon from many students of color, but the only difference for me is that I had a teacher who advocated for me, and a mom who was determined to make sure that I received the education that I deserved. Several years later, I find myself joining an organization, such as SCORE, that advocates for the improvement of Tennessee’s education in order to provide students with the school that they deserve.
Although I did not attend Princeton University, getting into Algebra I set me on a more challenging track that enabled me to attend Vanderbilt, a top 15 university.