Sherard Stephens

The disorder (at my school) has left me stuck taking double periods of gym this semester, all because someone overlooked the fact that I needed to fulfill four gym credits in order to graduate.
Sherard attends the Hostos-Lincoln Academy of Science in the Bronx. He's headed to Vanderbilt University in the fall.

Sherard attends the Hostos-Lincoln Academy of Science in the Bronx. He's headed to Vanderbilt University in the fall.

To Whom It Should Concern:

I go to a underprivileged high school snuggled in the South Bronx. The walls are painted a depressing shade of tan. Like many high schools in low-income areas, we share our building with another school. During transitions, the narrow hallways are as crammed and slow-moving as the huge line leading to my old middle school’s single metal detector – a daily reminder of the lack of resources that schools in the Bronx have and of the way we were viewed as thugs before children that are excited to receive an education.

My high school is always disorganized. Instead of posting my class schedule for the semester beforehand, I must join a never-ending line on the first day of each semester. This disorder has left me stuck taking double periods of gym this semester, all because someone overlooked the fact that I needed to fulfill four gym credits in order to graduate. So, I sit in the gym bleachers most afternoons chatting it up with my friends about our prom arrangements, scroll down my Instagram feed a thousand times, and do my best to dodge errant volleyballs and basketballs.

Fortunately, my freshman year, I went into my guidance counselor’s office and asked her how I could challenge myself outside of the not-so-difficult curriculum that my school offered. She recommended a college prep program called Sponsors for Educational Opportunity, which would help supplement the inadequate education my school provides. I applied. I got in.

I immediately noticed that I was becoming a different student amongst my peers. I was being taught techniques and concepts that I had never laid eyes on before in school. I walked into my regular high school classes with the confidence to answer all of the questions posed by my teacher. I found myself writing on the board and teaching my classmates faster ways to solve math problems. I was ahead.

By the end of my tenth grade year I finished all of my New York State Regents requirements. In eleventh grade, I worked toward getting my Advanced Regents Diploma by taking the LOTE Spanish Comprehension Exam and the Physics Regents. I was ahead up until the moment I walked into my guidance counselor’s office one Tuesday afternoon and she was singing a different tune. The tune of me not being able to graduate if I didn’t waste time sitting on bleachers in a hot gym 90 minutes a day, five days a week.

Despite all of this, my hard work outside of school has earned me a full scholarship to a top-tier university this fall. I’m excited. But as I look around the gym, where boys try their hardest to play basketball, all I can think is that they will never have that opportunity. And it isn’t their fault.