(Special to The Root) —
"Is it better to have my son in a small school with fewer resources and supportive teachers, or a larger school with more resources but administrators who aren't exactly nurturing?" —Monica Blakely
Thank you for your question. It is a good one that many parents ask themselves when thinking about their child's education. I would respectfully like to take a different tack and suggest that perhaps you should look at the question a bit more broadly.
There really is not an "either-or" case when choosing a school that is going to prepare your son for college. Even along the large-small axis, there are large high schools that are nurturing, and smaller high schools with excellent resources.
Size is just one factor, and you should really start with what your son needs to be his best and excel at whatever college or university he decides to attend. The most important thing to keep in mind when evaluating your son's schooling is that you are his most important advocate, and it is up to you to make sure he'll be prepared to get into and through college.
Wherever your son is enrolled, make sure he is taking a rigorous preparatory program that will ensure he is ready to thrive once he gets to college. Too many of our young people aren't performing well in these classes or aren't taking them at all. As a result, African-American students are more likely than any other group to have to take remedial classes once they get to college, which holds them back academically and can impose financial burdens because these classes have to be paid for but do not count for credit.
Examine your son's educational program relative to what potential colleges are looking for. How many years of English do they require? How much natural or physical science do they expect successful applicants to have completed? Are there programs such as community service that should be factored into the equation? Answering these questions sooner rather than later can place your son on the right college track.
When looking at both types of school you mention, mentoring and/or tutoring can go a long way toward addressing a school's relative shortcomings. Identifying someone who can provide your son with support and encouragement as well as academic assistance can help create an enthusiasm for learning that is fundamental to fostering your son's sense that he is ready for college and will succeed once he gets there.
An excellent source for mentoring information is One Hundred Black Men, Inc., an organization dedicated to empowering change in communities across the country. You should also explore Susan L. Taylor's National CARES Mentoring Movement for information on mentoring in your community.
You should also help your son start to think about college, including getting a firsthand picture of what college is like and what will be expected of him. Visit colleges and universities as part of family trips. Explore campuses in your community to see if they offer summer or holiday programs for high school students that help them get a leg up on preparing for college. These programs are also a good way to introduce your son to other young people who have the same drive and ambition to pursue higher education.
There are other excellent ways you can ensure that you and your son are getting the best information to prepare for college. Talk to other parents with children in college. Talk to your school counselor. Explore Web sites of organizations such as the College Board.
While there is not currently a national structure to ensure that parents and their children receive the tools and support they need when planning for college success, everything I mentioned is important and can help your son not only reach the college door but also walk through it and be successful on the other side.
At UNCF, we are also working to better inform parents and local communities about education and the tools and resources that are available to help them prepare their children for college. Visit our Web site to learn about the UNCF Empower Me Tour and see if it is coming to a community near you. This free, traveling college- and career-readiness road show provides interactive exhibits, seminars and more.
The most important thing to keep in mind, however, is that you must take the first step and be your son's most passionate advocate when it comes to making sure that he has all he needs to get to college and to flourish once he's there.
Michael Lomax is president and CEO of United Negro College Fund. He is a contributing editor at The Root.
If you have any questions about the college experience, whether you are a student or a parent, please send them to Dr. Lomax at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Root aims to foster and advance conversations about issues relevant to the black Diaspora by presenting a variety of opinions from all perspectives, whether or not those opinions are shared by our editorial staff.