Ayla Safran and Jenna Martin, ‘15
On the Tuesday evening of April 28th, 2015, we had the pleasure of attending Ms. Makila Meyers’s Peterson Fellow lecture on “The Opportunity Trap” in urban education concerning students’ access to gifted programs. The lecture, set in the transformed location of the library, was very well attended. The audience included Ray Peterson, the founding principal of BHSEC, after whom the Peterson fellow position was named. Ms. Meyers is currently a doctoral candidate at Columbia Teacher’s College, and is writing her dissertation on the topic of access to gifted programs. She is using the lens of critical race theory to explore what it means to be high achieving, low income and African American in NYC’s school system.
In her lecture, Ms. Meyers focused on the way that students who fit this description are given the opportunity to participate in high level, private specialty programs, even when they are not provided access to public gifted programs. Well-known programs like this include Prep-for-Prep and ABC (A Better Chance). She explained that low-income neighborhoods have a significant educational disadvantage in their unequal access to public “gifted and talented” programs. In fact, District 7, located in the South Bronx, in which Ms. Meyers used to teach, has no public gifted education programs.
Ms. Meyers questioned whether the concept of giftedness only exists in certain neighborhoods. She discussed the importance of social capital, and how members of a community have many different types of values to bring to the table, including but not limited to their education. She explained that teachers do not always appreciate different aspects of social capital. In the NYC public school system, teachers play a major role in helping students become accepted into private educational gifted programs by directly supporting them and their families, but students often end up dropping out of these programs.
Ms. Meyers plans to conduct comprehensive interviews with some students who have discontinued and others who are currently in these programs in order to find out why this is happening. She also plans to investigate how public policy is sabotaging low income, predominantly African American students by specially crafting districts to limit access to public gifted programs, which contributes to the achievement and education gaps in NYC, and essentially works to preserve existing economic, social and educational privilege. We are very excited to see her finished piece in 2017 when she plans to finish her dissertation!
Ms. Meyers is currently teaching a humanities elective entitled “Deconstructing the Narrative of Racial Passing” which explores both academic and literary accounts of racial passing — when someone is perceived as being from a race that is different from what they self-identify as. The class also investigates the intersectionality of gender, race, culture and the formation of personal identity. We have been very grateful to have the opportunity to learn from Ms. Meyers this semester, and hope she will return to BHSEC in the future!