A longstanding summer enrichment program for high achieving Georgia high school students loses funding next year year under a Senate vote. As you might imagine, the suspension of the popular Governor’s Honors Program is sparking many complaints, but none as elegant as this one from Yale student Annie Wang.
By the way, if you wonder what work ethic it takes to get into Yale; Annie wrote this e-mail at 1 a.m. I read it this morning at 7:30 and sent her a note that I would like to use it. Within 30 minutes, I had a revised copy from her. There is a lot of posturing on this blog about the inherent failings of “government schools.” But there are many schools producing brilliant students. Annie is one example.
I graduated from Walton High School in Cobb County last year, and I’m currently a freshman at Yale University. I’ve been reading your “Get Schooled” blog for the past couple of years, and I wanted to bring an issue to your attention.
For the past 40 years, Georgia has funded a summer program called the Governor’s Honors Program that is designed “to provide gifted high school students a summer program of challenging and enriching educational opportunities not usually available during the regular school year.” Students are selected from schools across the state in a very competitive process in a variety of disciplines, from math to music, science to social studies, dance to design. I attended GHP in the summer of 2007 as a Social Studies major (Soc Stud, if you will) and math minor.
As a Soc Stud, I took classes every day in subjects like a study of the year 1968, the economy of Africa, early Christian heresy, childhood attachment and bonding, and so much more. While this might just sound like normal school with weirder classes, the remarkable thing about GHP was that it didn’t really have classes, and it wasn’t really a school. Rather, GHP was a starting point for the pursuit our own interests. It allowed us to veer from the curriculum or rather, design our own.
Every single major at GHP has some kind of final presentation of a project that they work on independently for an extended period of time. Science majors present research. Music majors put on concerts. Dance majors have a recital. Math majors play probability games. Agricultural majors milk a cow (and present their research).
As for us soc studs? We put on a history fair!
One day a week, we soc studs were given free rein in the library to pursue a research topic of our choice. One student researched the special relationship between the United States and Great Britain. Another researched the influence of Pokémon on pop culture in the 1990s. (As I said, free rein.) My group researched the religious basis of the Israeli Palestinian conflict.
We interviewed local religious leaders, scoured online databases, and even hit the microfiche machines once or twice. By the end of the six weeks, we produced 3 tri-boards, a giant timeline, a brief video, and an architectural model of a mosque and a synagogue, mosque-o-gogue for short. (I’ve attached two pictures of our final report.)
The experience of producing the product was illuminating in and of itself. Believe it or not, GHP was the first time I had ever gathered primary sources for any kind of history paper. It was the first time I ever read an academic paper on history. It was the first time I had pursued even the rudiments of independent research.
So why did I do it? GHP doesn’t have tests. GHP doesn’t have grades. Instead, we have peer pressure—the good kind, that is. Six hundred students attend GHP every year, and these students are some of the talented and most passionate people I’ve ever met. GHPers challenge one another to be the best that they can be, and maybe even beyond what we our best is.
(Think my final project was elaborate? One student built a replica of a New York subway entrance, to scale.) My fellow GHPers, as well as the experience of GHP itself, taught me about research, initiative, and spontaneity in academia. It certainly pushed me farther intellectually than I had ever gone before.
But it was actually just one question, posed by an administrator no less, that pushed me over the edge.
We had been warned about the academic supervisor of GHP. He would wear a Salazar Slytherin T-shirt to show just how scary he really was. I remember the group had picked me to talk to him about our project, and my teacher had warned that he liked to quiz students. At first, the questions were easy. “How was the modern state of Israel founded?” “Describe the religious differences between Judaism and Islam.” I thought I had it in the bag; after all, these were more-or-less factual questions. They had an answer, and I could produce those answers. Or so I thought.
“Well, how would you solve it?”
“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict. How would you solve it?”
I had no idea how to answer. I had no idea that I, a 16-year-old girl from Marietta who had never been the Middle East in her life, was even vaguely qualified to give an answer. I don’t remember my answer from that night, but I remember the question. I remember because that question marked the first time I had been challenged to do something. It was the first time that I thought of myself as someone who could do something, who really could have something to offer to the world. I’m sure, in the abstract, every high school student wants to change the world, but until I attended GHP, I never thought that I actually could.
But if I hadn’t attended GHP, if I hadn’t done the research, if I hadn’t met all these great kids, if I hadn’t been given the opportunity to pursue my wildest interests — I wouldn’t be able to change the world.
And that’s the thing with GHP — it pushes you beyond your own limits. It challenges you in every way, to rise up to the talent of those around you and beyond. If I hadn’t attended GHP, if I hadn’t performed independent research, if I hadn’t chased my wildest interests, if I hadn’t met all these great kids—I wouldn’t be where I am today. I wouldn’t be who I am today.
I wouldn’t be a student who recognizes all the problems of the world and wants to fix them. I wouldn’t be studying sociology with the intent to research and produce legislative policy one day. GHP is an educational experience that epitomizes the purpose of education: to prepare you for life. If it were up to me, every student would attend GHP, and our state would be so much the better for it. Imagine a generation of youth who are passionately devoted to finding a solution to social problems and, moreover, believe themselves capable of doing so. Just imagine how Georgia would benefit, how the country would benefit.
Unfortunately, the Georgia Senate lacks that imagination.
This week, they passed a proposed budget for 2011 that eliminates the Governor’s Honors Program and end its 40 year tradition of excellence. I vehemently oppose any legislation that will suspend funding for the Georgia Governor’s Honors Program. I stand with thousands of alumni when I say that canceling the program entirely will be devastating for the state, the Department of Education, and, most importantly, thousands of Georgia’s brightest and most talented high school students.
Now we’re left with a final question: How do you solve it? How do you save GHP?
Over 1,800 GHP alumni have signed an online petition. Please sign this petition and contact your local representative to protest cuts in funding for GHP. Do it for the sake of the kids. Do it for the sake of the future.