Guest post by Allison Kephart, originally published in the Pacifica Tribune
As I enter my seventh week studying for a Master of International Relations degree at the Australian National University in Canberra, I’d like to take a moment to thank the educators who brought me to this point and to make one thing clear: Don’t underestimate Pacifica schools.
My current university is ranked sixth in the world for the study of International Relations and is the top university in Australia. I earned my undergraduate degree with a 4.0 from the University of Melbourne, the second-highest ranking university in Australia and again one of the top universities in the world. During lectures, I handwrite my notes using the structure I was taught in Jonathan Harris’ fourth- grade class at Ocean Shore School. When people ask me why I chose International Relations as my field, I explain doing my Oceana High School Sophomore Exhibition Project, through which I predicted the Syrian Revolution days before it broke out.
I am a product of the California public school system. I am a product of Pacifica. I am a product of Ocean Shore and Oceana. Of Sheila Gamble-Dorn and Jan Keaney, Stephanie Sotomayor and Laurie Hughes. All my life in Pacifica, I was uplifted by my educational environments, which fostered a passion for learning and a desire to understand how the world functions. My teachers were there for me in a multitude of ways: to answer a thousand and one questions, to hand me the internship opportunity that led to me working on Alcatraz, to encourage my involvement with spoken word poetry, through which I performed on stage in front of an audience of thousands on numerous occasions. My teachers were in the audience.
I still have Fredi Ware’s voice echoing in my head from seventh-grade pre-Algebra, demanding I always ask “why,” never simply taking the world as it is. Five years after graduating from Oceana High School, I am consistently told that I am going to have a successful future in my field.
Yet while I was at Ocean Shore and Oceana, I constantly had people — students at my own and other schools, parents with kids at other schools — putting down my education. I frequently witnessed an attitude that my education was less rigorous, challenging, or valuable because of the school I attended. I once spoke to a Pacifica parent about how stressed I was about schoolwork and she said, “Yeah, but you go to Oceana.” I was dumbfounded that the effort my teachers and I both put into my education could be dismissed in a single statement. I still am. Somehow I was made to feel as if finishing second in my high school class wasn’t as big a deal because I went to Oceana. As if my education at Ocean Shore wasn’t as preparative for high school because we were “Still the Alternative” in educational techniques and hands-on learning.
Pacifica community, please do not put down kids on the basis of which school they attend. Please do not assume that they work less hard or are less prepared for the future because they go to school on the north versus south side of town, or in San Francisco versus Pacifica. Any student, from any school in Pacifica, has the potential for greatness. It is your responsibility to ensure they are loved, supported, and encouraged throughout their education, and that means not putting them down because of their school.
I initially came to Australia through an international studies program and wound up staying for my undergraduate degree. I have recently returned for graduate school. I am studying alongside students who attended Oxford, Cambridge, Stanford, Columbia and Harvard. And you know what? I’m their equal. My ability to ask challenging questions of leading professionals in my field is not in spite of all the field trips I went on at Ocean Shore, not in spite of being part of Garden Advisory at Oceana, but because of my educational experience: because I worked hard, because I was encouraged to take advantage of opportunities, because my teachers were invested in me, because I was taught to demand more of myself and my education.
I am a 23-year-old Master’s student. For the first time in my life I am in an academic environment where nobody is putting down my education. It should not have taken this long. It is your responsibility to uplift young people, whether they’re 7 or 17, attending school in the north or south, whether they endeavour to go to Skyline or Yale. These different individuals, educations and pursuits all hold equal value. Pacifica is teeming with potential, and our educators are working tirelessly to support and encourage it. By all means continue to demand quality and progress from our school system, but please, please do not underestimate the power of a Pacifica education.