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By Rashad Price

Growing up in Southeast D.C., with limited good public education opportunities, I was fortunate to attend Friendship’s Collegiate Academy.  My late 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 at the University of the District of Columbia.

My classes in AP World History and AP US Politics required mastering texts in preparation for class, plus 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.

By being able to enroll in classes that earned college credit at Collegiate Academy, I arrived at university with accumulated credits, enabling me to take up more challenging majors and electives that sparked my interest.

I realized I wanted to study religion in college while completing AP World History in the 10th grade.  I graduated as male valedictorian in my high-school class.  Earning a place at 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 for my well-being, she regularly asked: “Are they racist up there?”  Happily, I was able to report that I had experienced no issues so far.

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 very different community from the one where I had grown up.  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, of whom by the time that I arrived there numbered 11.

Other such scholarship recipients came before and after me, creating a supportive community of students of color: like-minded individuals with shared experiences and common purpose in the middle of a Mid-West campus, including students from urban New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles, as well as my native Washington, D.C.

Upon graduating with my B.A. in Religious Studies, I was initially unsure of my next steps, but working with the City Year Program in D.C. took me to public charter schools, enabling me to learn about special education and students’ needs.  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 behavioral 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.   But as I remind colleagues, you have to be motivated by the welfare of the children you serve, and to connect with them or their families; otherwise, you will find it exhausting.

Returning to the neighborhood where I was raised, I can see many challenges from my workplace on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue. There are some positive changes in the community, but also displacement of poorer residents of color with gentrification.

At Friendship Public Charter School, many 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, realizing their full potential.

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