Haby Sondo

How can my brothers and sisters of the South Bronx ‘beat the odds’ if our education system is broken?
Haby Sondo is a senior at Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics. She's headed to Boston University in the fall.

Haby Sondo is a senior at Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics. She's headed to Boston University in the fall.

To Whom It Should Concern:

High School Musical has always sent chills to my body. The lights, the excitement, the way the characters swiftly moved their bodies, gliding through the hallways of their marble white high school floors. The clean white locker rooms and the picturesque white cafeteria with the blood red trays and the well-prepared meals always made me envious.

That’s because I am a product of the South Bronx, the product of a middle school across the street from the 169th projects.

I walked through metal detectors every day before I got into school, and inadvertently normalized the idea of getting shot or stabbed on my way there.

After all, Mohamadou was cornered with a knife and forced to give up his winter coat in exchange for his life.

Sebastian, Landry, and Moses were beaten up at parks after school.

Ibn went to prison.

My little sister, Madina, and her friends saw their classmate's lifeless body on the concrete outside of her school.

So, you see, there was a part of me that knew that no matter where I ended up for high school, those picturesque TV scenes would never be my high school reality. I was not Troy, Gabriella, or Sharpay, and I would never attend High School Musical.

I was 12-year-old Haby who knew she had to get out of her neighborhood, the Haby who put an unwavering faith in the high school directory guide which was supposed to serve as my escape from of the dangers I faced in middle school, the guide which was to assure my entrance into a borough where my middle school fears could disappear.

The guide failed me.

I was wrong.

I became a victim to the same environment, but with a different name.

My reality is gym lockers with brown rust.

My reality is the suffocating phenomenon known as poverty present on a daily basis.

It is evident that my school is in the middle of a war zone in Spanish Harlem, of people and students fighting their way out of the slums, the cracked roads, the weakened infrastructure, and the increasing poverty rates which work to strangle the community.

I often hear the voices of authoritative figures in my head screaming, "the only escape from your environment is an education, don't take it for granted!" But how can I, how can my brothers and sisters of the South Bronx "beat the odds" if our education system is broken?

I believed all my teachers were going to be like Erin Gruwell in the movie Freedom Writers, a teacher with an unwavering devotion to helping students open their minds to a limitless world of knowledge capable of bringing them to places they’d never imagined.

I believed that my intelligence would be measured by my ability to convey my thoughts through descriptive language, or the sophistication of my literary analysis.

This again was not my reality.

My reality is a teacher who spent class periods discussing how much he would have to pay for child support and custody battles with the mother of his child rather than teaching 9th grade students about the wonders of human organisms.

My reality is a teacher who rarely assigned homework or classwork and assigned grades based off what the students asked him to give them.

My reality is an AP teacher who tells her students who don't feel prepared enough to take the AP exam that their only job is to not disturb those who are.

My reality is a teacher telling me that I plagiarized a paper due to the sophistication of my writing.

My reality is a system in which four months of hard work is overshadowed by a series of midterms exams which account for 50% of my grade.

My reality is a set curriculum in which teachers are restricted to only teaching for a Regents exam, as if a three hour test is enough to sum up what a student has retained from the entire school year, as if a student's complex intelligence can be accurately assessed by bubbling A, B, C, or D. .

High School Musical and its false hopes are an unreachable dream.

High school musical no longer sends chills to my body.

High School Musical is not my reality.

A public school in desperate need of reform is my reality.