When taking the right classes and having the highest GPA is not enough
Kymberly Wimberly, a teen mother and black student at Arkansas’ McGhee High School, had the highest overall GPA, after taking a rigorous course schedule, and was named her class valedictorian. In her complaint, Kymberly asserts that the school district denied her right to be the school’s lone valedictorian, as they had historically denied access to the type of classes that would qualify black students for such an honor. In a school that is 45 percent African-American, Kymberly recalls being the only African-American student in her AP literature class and only one of two in AP Calculus. However, a Washington Post article asserts that the school’s principal, Darrell Thompson, decided to name a white student with a lower GPA as the co-valedictorian. Superintendent of schools, Thomas Gathen, denies that the decision was racial motivated, however, the lawyer for Ms. Wimberly, alleges:
“[The] defendant’s actions were part of a pattern and practice of school administrators and personnel treating the African-American students less favorably than the Caucasian ones…Until Wimberly, the last African-American valedictorian in the McGeeHee school district was in 1989.”
The complaint also alleges:
“ ‘African-American students were not encouraged to take Honors or Advanced Placement classes,’ the complaint says. ‘Caucasian students had to almost opt out (of advanced classes).’”
An undeniable reality of schools is the institutional culture of each campus and school district. Whether that culture fosters a culture of cheating as we have seen through such examples as the recent Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal or the longstanding practice of denying students access to advanced coursework. In many school districts, African-American and Hispanic parents are well aware of the inequities in honors and AP course enrollment, Gifted and Talented Placement, and admission to top performing and magnet schools within their school district.
Successful college planning demands that parents and students recognize school culture, identify inequities, and fight for their rights to access that classes, student organizations, clubs, enrichment opportunities, and course work needed to ensure a high quality education. So, too, must students recognize their role in taking advantage of the opportunities, when available, and putting forth the necessary effort to break down stereotypes and rise to the ranks of top students. Congratulations to Kymberly Wimberly for taking a stand. Many other students, most of whom she will never know, will benefit from her courage.