Niagara Gazette

February 14, 2013

HAMILTON: A reason to succeed, despite the circumstances

By Ken Hamilton
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Two American high school students have done something extraordinary. One of them have just scored a perfect Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) score and the other has just won $75,000 on Alex Trebek’s Teen Jeopardy show. The two students have a lot in common with many other students across America, in that their successes are rooted in their ambitions, their parental support and in a school system that has dedicated itself to their success. But there are a couple of other things that make these two students, by birth, stand out: both of them are African-American males who did not use the color of their skins as an excuse to fail. In fact, they used it as a reason to succeed.

Though they are African-Americans, they are much, much more: they are Americans — period. And while Cameron Clarke, who attends the prestigious Germantown Academy of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was one of only 360 of the roughly 15-million high school students in America to attain a perfect score, it is possible for any of our local Niagara Falls High School students of any color to do likewise, if they had the support he had. If Clarke’s parents had to pay for his 13-year education in one payment of today’s dollars, then their bill would be a seemingly whopping $320,000. You may say that, “Well, I can see how he made it. I could never pay that much for my child.”

Leonard Cooper, of the Little Rock, Arkansas’s eSTEM Public Charter School comes from a school district that spends an average of about $155,000 per student for those same 13-years; years that produced a Jeopardy-winner. While it is $165,000 less than Clarke’s Germantown Academy, it is also $82,000 less than what we spend per student in Niagara Falls. In fact, the average $237,000 that we spend per student for a 13-year education here is within $500 of the average cost of both of these boys’ education.

That tells me that the money is not so much of a factor in the success of any student, even the African-American boys who are too often placed into special and alternative educational classes; this while they await a GED that most will never get. It also tells me that a student’s ambition, their parents’ involvement and school systems’ dedication, in the case of Cooper, makes the parental involvement worth a quarter of a million dollars – because it is the parent’s involvement that makes the other two things happen.

Can we make things like this continuously happen in Niagara Falls? I believe that we can. At the Hard Rock Café, during Chris Stoianoff’s recent book signing, a fellow protagonistically engaged me in a discussion on what I considered the failing condition of our schools. We had different opinions; but he did make one valid point that resonated with me. He reminded me that the Niagara Falls school system provides nearly every program available to give every child an opportunity to succeed. Sadly, while true, too many are still failing to take full advantage of those programs. Sadder still, only some parents provide the home environment and discipline that are necessary for a good education and take an interest in homework; too few ensure that their children come to school every day; fewer still attend parent-teacher conferences and parental attendance at board of education meetings is as rare as hen’s teeth.

I often criticize those members of the Falls School Board for choosing to participate in projects such as the expansion of public housing and other programs that featherbed generational failure; but board members' futures do not depend on the outcome of their choices. Much more criticism must be showered upon the parents who will sell their children’s future for their own comforts, by not actively and aggressively participating in their children’s education and ensuring that they are taking advantage of every opportunity for success that is brightly before them There is no excuse for failure, despite the circumstances; and every reason to succeed, because of the same.

Contact Ken Hamilton at