by brannonhowie
Last updated 8 years ago

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I grew up in a very small town in North Carolina, with a history deeply seated in agrarian roots. I attended the public high school to which I was districted in my county. In my sophomore year I was recommended for Governor's School, which I ended up attending in the concentration area of Visual Art. To get into Governor's School, one had to be recommended, have a certain IQ and excel in their area of recommendation. At my regular public high school, there were two minority students in my class, one male and one female. The diversity I experienced at my high school was the diversity that was represented by the different types of things farmed by the different students' families. Academics were not always the focus of my peers. At Governor's School, however, everyone was there because they were in pursuit of knowledge, they were focused on academics. No one was required to attend class, there was no policy for attendance nor was there punishment for skipping class, everyone attended because they wanted to learn. I remember meeting people of all colors and belief systems -- I had never before met anyone like these people. At Governor's School, I realized what great diversity lie beyond the confines of Union County.

After high school, I attended NC State. I had never seen so many people in my life. And they all came from different places. I used to imagine that for every person I saw there were at least two more people out there; a mother and a father -- that must be tons of people.At State, everyone had a cause. Something that they were passionate about and were advocating for. Wetlands, more funding for the GLBT center, finishing the bell tower -- things I had never even considered to be issues. I didn't live in the wetland area so I didn't know they needed to be protected. Nor did know anyone that classified themself as GLB or T so I certainly didn't know they needed support. I met many different people and really expanded upon my realization of how truly large and diverse the world is.

After finishing college I went on to teach at a public school in North Durham. I was a true minority in this situation. A majority of the teachers were black, a majority of the students were black. The culture of the school aligned more with the hip hop culture than the country club, debutant culture that was my upbringing. In my entire life I had never met anyone that called an apartment home. I never knew anyone that lived in the projects. I hadn't known anyone that used food stamps. I hadn't known anyone that was on free or reduced lunch. I had never known anyone who was homeless. I hadn't known anyone that had ever truly wanted for anything. It was true culture shock. It was paralyzing. I wasn't sad, I wasn't upset, I wasn't angry. It was true surprise. I learned something different and new everyday. I was baffeled at the way english was spoken. I was baffeled at the items that seemed to be of value. I realized the value of a good education. I realized the value of parents. I realized where my true seat in life had been. Mainly, I realized the value of stability.

I drove 50 minutes to work in Durham, so I found a job in Wake County where my drive is about five minutes. It is the other side of the coin from the school at which I taught in Durham. It is a gifted and talented magnet school nestled neatly in the middle of one of the most affluent areas inside the belt line. Students go on winter holiday to Aspen. When I asked the students to describe their summer as a literacy lesson, a resounding percentage were returing from Asia. It is truly how the other half live. There is a banner hanging in the hallway that has donors that have supported the school with donations of $5,000+, and they are parents of current students. I personally identify more with my Wake County students, but having these two gravely different teaching experiences I have witnessed how vastly different the lives of my Durham students and the lives of my Wake County students are going to be.



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