Guest Editorial: Montclair High Counselor Mark Walters

June 23, 2013
The Montclair Times

“What happens to a dream deferred, does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?”

In early May I had the privilege of speaking those words of Langston Hughes at The College Board’s annual conference, “A Dream Deferred – the Future of African American Education,” this year held in Chicago. As a member of the external planning committee, I was also honored to recommend and suggest the participation of others associated with the field of education in Montclair.

The audience, which was comprised of close to one thousand educators from across the nation, was given the opportunity to hear how Montclair’s educators, from both the public school perspective and that of Montclair State University, have worked assiduously to help narrow the achievement gap of African American students.

Gayl Shepard, president of The Montclair Education Association, captivated her overflow audience with her presentation, “Reigniting the Dream,” stating that large numbers of our children of color bring more than their backpacks to school and that in society as a whole, not enough attention is paid to the root causes of dream-deferring factors.

It is, therefore, necessary for a school system to be proactive — as the Montclair schools through the years have been — to encourage an aura of support, encouragement, and motivation to assist in narrowing the achievement gap.

Dr. Daniel Jean, executive cirector of The EOF (Educational Opportunity Fund) and Academic Development at Montclair State University presented his SRO audience with “Developing your Educator Swagger — Improving Student Learning, Retention, and Satisfaction.”

The Educational Swagger Quiz, allowed participants to explore and define essential professional development areas, self-identify their competencies, and highlight the purpose for being an educator.

Angela Barrett, resource specialist for the Montclair High School component of the Gateway to College program at Essex County College, who received a special College Board fellowship to participate in the event, sparked considerable interest as she spoke of the commitment of the Montclair High School at-risk Gateway enrollees.

She stated that their determination cannot only lead to their Gateway scholarship renewal, but also — to an even greater degree — personal renewal, as they experience success and see a substantial improvement in their own achievement levels. Ms. Barrett was joined by Gateway Director Nikki Constantine.

My presentation, “Hey Dreamkeepers — Fashion Your Passion: The Five Steps from At-Risk to At-Promise,” involved the participants in a hands-on, self reflective media presentation incorporating the mirrors and motivational posters which adorn my office.

I also presented a “WMHS Guidance Radio Live” broadcast, which paid tribute to:

  1. The Montclair High School Guidance Department, whose mission it has always been to assist and encourage students to develop a toolkit for creating a vision for the future, and
  2. MHS’ Team One five-step mantra which daily encourages our children to: Wish It, Dream It, Plan It, Do It — Imagine the Possibilities – ENDLESS!”
    JoAnn McCullough, executive director of the IMANI program, received The College Board’s prestigious Dr. Asa G. Hilliard Model of Excellence Award for having so positively impacted the African-American community of Montclair.

Her message was strong and powerful as she spoke to nearly 1,000 participants, describing the inequities of her own early educational experiences in New Orleans, and how this was the impetus for what she described as her “unwavering dedication and commitment to making the IMANI program work for all children in Montclair — in her and Montclair’s quest for “A Dream Deferred — No More!”

The town of Montclair, in its various “iterations” or components (public schools, community organization, and university), was most certainly “in the house” in Chicago; yet, there were more than 60 other speakers from throughout the country whose presentations incisively dealt with such varying topics as parental involvement, testing, college placement, STEM, writing, math, the sciences, and more.

A Dream Deferred allowed me to “bring home” many useful, exciting, and innovative concepts through which we can further enlighten the lives of our students; but even more, this event “brought home” that Montclair — along with so many other fine schools around the country — is so very much “up to speed, at the head of the class, and on point” and truly exemplifies its mission and goals, ceaselessly dedicating itself to educational excellence, valuing initiative and diversity, and achieving the goals of improving academic achievement, continuing to achieve equity, and promoting community engagement.

Mark Walters is a counselor in the Montclair High School Guidance Department.