I have twice participated in Takoma Park Middle School's yearly trip to Florida, once as a student, and again last year as a high school chaperone. Thus it is with grave concern that I read Marc Fisher's assault ("A Class Trip Into a Land of Questions," Mar. 13) on what is one of the best experiences the school offers its students.
Mr. Fisher seeks to characterize the program as one designed to shut out some kids while rewarding others. Nothing could be further from the truth. As he mentioned, the trip is open to all eighth-graders with good academic standing. This is no concerted effort to deny minorities or non-magnet students from going on the trip. On the contrary, this policy serves as incentive for all students to get good grades so that they can go to Florida with their friends. Rather than a symbol of oppression, the trip is actually motivation to many students to work hard in school.
When I first went on the trip in 2000, I shared a room with two African-American friends of mine. They were not magnet students; I was. Contrary to Mr. Fisher's claims, there was never the slightest hint of tension between magnet and non-magnet students. In fact, the trip had the opposite effect, bringing everyone closer together. I remember having many conversations about girls, sports, and Disney World--and none about racial or economic exclusion. We were just kids, out to have a good time while learning in a very non-traditional setting.
In light of the criticism that Mr. Fisher mentions the Florida trip has come under recently, it is my fervent hope that the program's value is not forgotten. It would be a real shame to no longer offer deserving students at Takoma Park this remarkable opportunity.
Even after acknowledging that the school has gone to great lengths to make the trip include as many students as possible, and that cost is not prohibitive--thanks to donations, the school offers aid to those who can't afford the trip--Fisher seems intent on railing at the straw man of racism or elitism or who knows what. I wish he hadn't done so merely for the purpose of filling a column.
But the Florida Trip isn't the only reason Takoma Park MS has been in the crossfire recently. A Post article earlier in the week reported that a group of African-American parents are pushing for the school's magnet program to be shut down or radically altered (see: "Parents Protest Magnet Makeup"). Their complaints are based on the fact that a fewer percentage of African-American student applicants are accepted than white or Asian applicants. That said, the article does not mention that those students rejected from the program do not meet the requirements (i.e.: grades, test scores, activities) for entry into the program.
If I were in the position of those angry parents, I would not focus my energies on trying to close the magnet program or establish affirmative action in middle schools. The real problem here lies with the preparation of minority students in grade school for standardized testing and other barometers of academic performance. Those parents should demand that the county work to prepare all students--not just white and Asian students--for academic success. Then let Takoma Park's selection process do its job of finding the most gifted and promising students in the county.