Guest Column

Feb 142008
Authors: Drew Haugen

The semester that is supposed to be a little easier than the others- the last semester – turns out to be pretty tough.

Senioritis makes the schoolwork a little monotonous, but the biggest stressor is finding out “what’s next?”

I went to the career fairs and the Career Center, browsed the Web and read a lot of material, but I was still lost.

Then a friend told me to check out Teach for America, an organization that places college grads in under-resourced schools around the country.

So, out of initial interest and to keep my options open, I applied for Teach For America on the night of the last deadline. And I was accepted.

And, turns out, not all schools in America are like the nice, high-performing, middle class, mostly white schools I attended prior to Colorado State.

I now teach high school science in South Central Los Angeles at a school that draws most of its students from the neighborhood where they shot the film “Training Day,” which is affectionately called “the Jungles” by locals.

The term API refers to Academic Performance Index, an objective rating of the academic performance of a school. Beverly Hills High School boasts a ’10’ API, the highest possible score. Fort Collins High Schools all boast impressive ‘9’ scores.

The high school that I teach at now: API score of 1.

The graduation rate for seniors who entered the school as freshmen hovers between 50 and 75 percent. The entire school population qualifies for free or reduced lunches and approximately 80 percent of students live in a foster home or with an extended family member- a grandparent, an aunt or uncle or even an older sibling.

What’s more, our school is comprised entirely of minorities: one-half Black, one-half Latino.

For those of you that think American schools are all pretty much the same and that educational inequity is a thing of the 60s, think again.

The poor and the disadvantaged are still relegated to low-performing schools across the nation, and the partitions between the rural and urban poor and the middle and upper classes is no more evident than in our school system.

In these under-resourced schools, students who graduate are still around three to five grade levels in performance behind their peers in wealthier communities.

America’s educational system does not currently extend the same benefits to every school in every community.

This prompts the question: “what did any of these kids do to deserve this?” The answer: they were born poor or they were born a minority.

Racism still exists in America, and it is exhibited clearly in our educational system. What should society be telling students who want to be doctors, lawyers, businesspeople, accountants, artists: “Sorry – you’re poor” or “of course you can!”

Following college I was looking for a way to expose myself to different cultures and challenge my biases, to help others, to explore a new environment, to learn more about myself and to disown some of the privilege I have enjoyed as a white, middle class male.

Teach For America is not an easy first job – I work hard at what I do, but at the same time, I feel these young people should get to enjoy the same opportunities I had.

The final deadline for application to Teach For America is today. For more information, please visit the Web site at

Drew Haugen is an alumnus of CSU and currently lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at Letters and feedback can be sent to

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