Growing up in southeast D.C., with limited good public education opportunities, I was fortunate to attend Friendship’s Collegiate Academy. My mother told me I would be attending Woodson which excited me as some of my middle school friends were headed there. Later, I learned that she meant Friendship’s Carter G. Woodson campus which initially disappointed me as I wouldn’t be with any of my friends.
I had yet to learn about the opportunities available to me at my mother’s school of choice. In addition to teachers and mentors who pushed me to succeed and were important for my future, I could take academically rigorous Advanced Placement classes at University of Maryland – College Park and McDaniel College and the University of the District of Columbia.
My classes in AP World History and AP U.S. Politics required mastering texts in preparation for class while interacting with college professors and fellow scholars. The experience of honing research, critical thinking, writing, speaking and listening skills provided early preparation for and exposure to college, which proved invaluable to me as an undergraduate. As I was able to enroll in classes at Collegiate Academy for which I earned college credits, I began college with accumulated credits which enabled me to consider more challenging majors and take electives that sparked my interest. I would graduate from high school as the male valedictorian of my class.
I realized I wanted to study religion in college while completing AP World History in the 10th grade. Shortly after my matriculation at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, I changed my major to Religious Studies to pursue my passion to learn about different people and cultures.
In this journey, my biggest supporters were my family who were “the ones I do it for.” As the first male in my family to earn a college degree, I owe much to them.
My grandfather instilled in me the value of education at a very young age. I could also lean on my cousin Zack, who had some college experience, when social pressures or drama arose. My mom would call me every other day. Aunts and my uncle also helped motivate me as did my strong, loving grandmother. Always concerned about my well-being, she regularly asked: “Are they racist up there?” Happily, I was able to report that I had experienced no issues – at least not yet.
Many mentors and teachers also helped me on my way from high school to college like a caring second family.
My family and school support helped me adjust to a community far different from the one in which I had been raised. After earning a highly competitive Posse scholarship that paid my tuition costs, I also was fortunate to be able to rely on my cohort of “Posse” scholars – a number that had grown to 11 by the time I joined them.
Scholarship recipients who came both before and after me helped create a supportive community of students of color — like-minded individuals with shared experiences and common purposes in the middle of a midwestern campus with students from New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles, as well as my native Washington, D.C.
After graduating with my B.A. in Religious Studies, I was initially unsure of my next step. But working with the City Year Program in D.C. exposed me to public charter schools and allowed me to become familiar with special education and the often-unmet needs of many students. From there, a desire to teach inspired me to enroll in Teach for America. My passion for the challenges and rewards of special education was ignited.
Addressing learning difficulties and behavior issues with appropriate interventions, an aspect of schooling long ignored by traditional education systems, is now seen as an essential part of public education by experts – recognized in federal government legislation and heightened public awareness.
The challenges of special education are some of the hardest in teaching but student growth and progress in this area is perhaps the most rewarding. However, as I remind my colleagues, you have to be motivated by the welfare of the children you serve and must connect with them and their families. If not, you will find the work to be exhausting.
Returning to the neighborhood of my youth, I see many challenges from my workplace just off Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue. There are some positive changes in the community but also displacement of poorer residents of color because of gentrification.
At Friendship Public Charter School, many of my former mentors and teachers are now colleagues. Like them, my aspiration for my students is a high-quality education that places them in charge of their future and therefore able to realize their full potential.
Rashad Price is a special-education teacher at Friendship Southeast Middle School in Ward 8.