Banneker High School is ranked 217 out of 416 schools in Georgia. With a predominantly 94.5% African American and 3.9% Hispanic population and a student-teacher ratio of 12:1, Banneker was considered the worst school in the South Fulton area. As a Title 1 school, it suffers from being 100% economically disadvantaged, and as a result, receives federal funding due to its large concentration of low-income students. When I entered Banneker as a freshman, the school was categorized as a failing school and was on the verge of government take over. With a graduation rate of 54%, it is easy to understand why Banneker students were not considered on track for college readiness. Most would say the school was built on a negative foundation and thus its students were not destined to be successful. We are the lower class. We are the underdogs. We are ignored. But these “labels” have never defined me. Instead, they have only motivated and prepared me for a future of greatness.
Walking into my freshman year, I was distraught, sad, and tired of going to schools where every student was placed in the same box—presumed to have a low foundation and even lower expectations of themselves. I was tired of the constant negativity associated with the schools I attended (middle school included). The disappointment of not being accepted into other magnet school programs also played a part. I wanted to feel the way those students felt. I was raised as a gifted student, so my mindset has always been, “I need the best of the best.” I cried to my parents and begged them not to enroll me at Banneker. I would later understand that their decision was, in fact, the best choice.
It did not take long for me to realize that much of the negative commentary associated with Banneker’s students and teachers was not entirely accurate. Instead of apathetic students, I have fostered relationships with like-minded peers who want nothing more than to be successful in school and life. Instead of being met with lackadaisical teachers, I have been taught by phenomenal educators—even one that worked for Nickelodeon—who have poured into, supported, and helped me along my journey. Yes, you have some good, bad, and ugly, but it has been nothing like the narrative. Thankfully, I have no regrets.
Banneker is the reason I have grown—not just as a student but as a more multifaceted person. Some students are raised to think it is okay to be average. I am surrounded by many whose predominant thought is, “Cs will get you a diploma.” Although this statement is true, it has helped shape my mindset: Do not settle for less than your best! I ask friends who complain about the school, “How do you plan to improve yourself beyond Banneker or improve Banneker itself?” It is a complex question with the same answer: “I have no idea.”
Change does not start with complaints; it starts by trying to better the situation. Banneker is the catalyst for change, with the class of 2019 raising the bar with the highest AP scores, graduation rate and the most students receiving college credits in the schools history. The class of 2020 has big shoes to fill and we are prepared to follow up with unprecedented statistics. Some might say that is nothing to celebrate. However, when a school has been stigmatized for as long as Banneker has, trust me, although it seems like a small accomplishment, it is not. It is progress, and I am proud to have played a small part.
I, Alorie Brown, have made an impact upon my fellow peers, school, and community. My goal is to help the upcoming generation be even better, which is why I have connected with teachers from my elementary school to tutor struggling students. To foster change, we must start at the foundation. I am grateful for my experience at Banneker, for it taught me a valuable life lesson that I can take to college: just because one is “expected” to fail does not mean one has to.
--Alorie Brown, BHS 2020