Poly Senior Taylor Williams receives associate’s degree at BCCC one day before high school graduation

— As Baltimore City Community College (BCCC) celebrated its 64th commencement Saturday, June 1, 2013 attesting to the spirit and determination of graduates who completed 60 hours of college credit and their associate’s degree, one standout was noted for the way she accomplished the same feat while still in high school.


President Obama’s letter to Taylor Williams

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Taylor Williams, age 17, a senior at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, approached the stage for her associate’s degree at the Patricia and Arthur Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric. She was one of the first at her school to earn a two-year college degree in the same time it takes to get a diploma. In fact, her high school graduation ceremony takes place the very next day.

Taylor began her journey nearly four years ago when she transferred from her first high school, Grace Brethren Christian School, to Poly. Because she needed a biology class, her parents helped her enroll at BCCC. Her father accompanied her to class since she was only 14. Over the course of her studies, she learned about BCCC’s Early Enrollment Program, which enables students to rack up college credits while they are still in high school, as long they earn a grade of “C” or better.

“I never thought this would be such a big deal,” she says. “But the Early Enrollment Program became an outlet for my motivation. I’m a bit stubborn; all I wanted was to be competitive so I kept on taking classes and building up my college credit. You have to set yourself apart.”

Taylor credits the community college environment at BCCC— smaller class size, individualized attention and convenience to her high school schedule— as indispensable to her success.

Taylor will attend the University of Maryland-College Park this fall where she is thinking of pursuing a double major in engineering and pre-medicine. She was also accepted to Howard University in Washington, D.C., North Carolina A&T State University and Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg.

Her father is a network engineer and her mother, a software engineer. Both stay actively involved in her academic life. Taylor’s sister, Kayla, is in 10th grade. Despite her young age she is working at an internship in Northrup Grumman’s High School Involvement Partnership (HIP) Program, which focuses on young people’s pursuit of technical degrees through hands-on experiences and training.

In addition to her academic pursuits Taylor has maintained an ambitious schedule of extracurricular activities. She received a personal letter from President Barack Obama recognizing her simultaneous achievement of an associate’s degree and high school diploma. She was awarded a Governor’s Citation from Gov. Martin O’Malley and similar acclamations from Maryland State Sen. Bill Ferguson and Baltimore City Council President Jack Young. As an Air Force Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) speaker, Taylor addressed Baltimore area middle school audiences on the importance of education. She participated in NASA’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Research Program and was a member of Poly’s indoor and outdoor track teams. In 2010, she was First Runner Up in the Miss Maryland Teen USA Pageant.

Earlier this year, Taylor was selected by the National Society of High School Scholars to attend the 2013 Presidential Inaugural Conference in Washington, D.C. where she met retired four-star General and former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Wesley Clark.

BCCC’s 64th commencement featured Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown as keynote speaker, who coincidentally was also the speaker at Taylor’s Poly graduation ceremony the next day. This year the college will graduate over 500 of its students. For more information about programs offered at BCCC, contact the BCCC Institutional Advancement Office.

BSA appoints new director of TWIGS program

— Baltimore School for the Arts (BSA) is pleased to announce the appointment of Becky Schnydman Mossing as the new director of the school’s free after school and Saturday program, TWIGS (“To Work in Gaining Skills”). Mossing, who is a 1988 graduate of BSA, will begin this role in August following the retirement of Georgia King after 22years as director.

Since 1982, TWIGS has given young aspiring artists who reside in Baltimore City the opportunity to gain skills in music, dance, visual arts, stage production and theatre classes taught by professional artist/teachers. TWIGS, has grown exponentially over the years and today serves 700 young artists from second through eighth grade from more than 100 public, parochial and independent schools.

“Becky brings her expertise, her joy and her enthusiasm to BSA every day. She delights in sharing these qualities with young people,” said Dr. Chris Ford, director of BSA. “We have been honored to have her on our team and are thrilled for her to share her talent and passion with the area’s youngest artists and their families.”

Mossing has been a staff member at BSA since 2006 and has served in several roles including program assistant, musical theatre instructor and alumni director.

“I came back to BSA because I love the school’s mission— to work with city kids who have a passion, but limited opportunities for training,” said Mossing. ”The mission to give these kids the ability to follow their dreams is extraordinary and magical.”

Prior to BSA, she taught acting and musical theatre classes at Everyman Theatre, Summer Stock Performing Arts Camp and Musical Theatre Works, Inc.

Outside of BSA, Mossing co-directs The Hippodrome Foundation’s Summer Theatre Camp, a free program that serves middle school children primarily from Baltimore City. Additionally, her cabaret performances can be seen regularly around Baltimore.

Following graduation from BSA, Mossing attended New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. While there, she received the Outstanding Achievement Award in musical theatre. After graduating from NewYork University, she began her career in theatre by performing in off-Broadway performances, touring nationally and doing regional theatre. Mossing also went on to receive her Master of Arts in teaching with certification in general and special education from Goucher College in 2000. She taught elementary and special education in Baltimore County public schools for four years.

Current TWIGS Program Assistant and 1996 graduate, Iris Andersen, will continue working with the program with an expanded role and Michael Solomon will also continue in his role with the program.

For more information about the TWIGS program, visit www.bsfa.org/TWIGS.

Six week community college program opens door to Ivy League

— Felix German Contreras, age 22, is a second-year student at Atlantic Cape Community College in New Jersey on a sure-footed path to health sciences.

New Jersey State Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society President. Atlantic City Boys and Girls Club Staff Assistant. Medical school-bound.

Who knew this was possible for the six-year-old Dominican boy who immigrated to Atlantic City in 1996. His father, a biochemical engineer, discovered his experience did not translate laterally to the U.S. and settled for casino employment. His mother, a high school graduate, is a beauty school-trained cosmetologist who enjoys styling hair.

A naturalized U.S. citizen at 17, Contreras watched his neighborhood friends wither under the weight of harsh challenges. Four of them were lost to drug abuse, incarceration and death. Peter, his closest friend since age seven died from a heroin overdose in 2012.

“Wasn’t this move to America supposed to open a brighter future?” he wondered. The situations could easily create more doubt than possibilities for Contreras who describes himself in a desperate search for that “catalyst to achieve.”

One late night in early 2012, Contreras, a calculus and chemistry whiz, tapped a few keystrokes that redirected his fate. A Google search for “medical summer program” returned the life-changing link— “SMDEP”— Summer Medical and Dental Education Program.

The Summer Medical and Dental Education Program is a free, six-week academic enrichment program sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The intensive program— which offers tuition, housing and meals at 12 university sites across the country— equips college freshman and sophomores from underrepresented backgrounds to pursue careers in medicine or dentistry.

Contreras applied and was accepted by SMDEP at the Yale University site. The rigorous science, math and medical school preparation was accompanied by workshops to improve reading and writing skills. Contreras admits the training helped him clear hurdles around English as his second language.

Encouraged by a site advisor to “step up his game,” Contreras read six novels in six months, turning the corner on a newly found love for English.

Less than a year after the program, Contreras is poised for a career in nutrition or public health.

Recalling his experience, “You can’t believe how much six weeks can give to someone, who is eager to receive,” he notes. “I believe everybody wants to better themselves. But sometimes, they just don’t know how. SMDEP showed me the doors of opportunities to the other side.”

Most doctors in his area are either Asian or Caucasian, which explains the “culture shock” he experienced while studying with fellow black and Latino students at the Yale SMDEP site. He eagerly welcomed the exposure, recognizing the wave of the future.

Rapid demographic changes are transforming the nation’s population. According to physician workforce data provided by the Association of American Medical Colleges between 1978 and 2008, 75 percent of all medical school graduates practicing medicine were white. Meanwhile, blacks, American Indians and Hispanics comprised a combined 12.3 percent U.S. physician workforce. For nearly 25 years, SMDEP has served as a pipeline to position more diverse health care professionals in the field.

Contreras offers that his mother, who speaks little English, has experienced sub-par health care due to language barriers and a lack of cultural competence by some physicians.

“My mother is like many immigrant people who do not get adequate health care because there is not enough sensitivity to and for their realities,” says Contreras.

Eyeing Amherst College or Wesleyan University for undergraduate studies, Contreras applauds the two years spent at Atlantic Cape Community College. He insists that the supportive community college experience, coupled with his SMDEP participation has prepared him to succeed academically at a four-year college. He indicated he wants to study at Yale School of Medicine and then return that training to his Atlantic City community.

“I want to attend Yale School of Medicine— not because it’s Yale— but because of what Yale SMDEP has done for me,” he shares. “It is where my fundamentals were built and has paved everything for me to today.”

“All of this has made me realize, wow— I can be a leader! The little things add up to be big in the end. Sí se puede,” he says, which translates into “Yes We Can!”

Started in 1988 (formerly as the Minority Medical Education Program and Summer Medical and Education Program), more than 20,0000 alumni have completed SMDEP which today sponsors 12 university sites with each accepting up to 80 students per summer session. Now preparing for their summer 2013 cohort, SMDEP accepts applications annually November 1 thru March1. For more information about SMDEP and how to apply, visit www.smdep.org.

President addresses Morehouse graduates

Speaking to the newly minted graduates of Atlanta’s historically black and all-male Morehouse College May 19, 2013, President Obama urged them to use the power and advantage of their diplomas “for something larger than yourself.”


Lee A. Daniels

“It betrays a poverty of ambition,” he said to his rain-soaked but rapt audience, “if all you think about is what goods you can buy instead of what good you can do. … just as Morehouse has taught you to expect more of yourselves, inspire those who look up to you to expect more of themselves.”

“Pull them up, expose them, support their dreams. Don’t put them down … do these things … not just for yourself … [widen] your circle of concern … to care about justice for everybody.”

The president did say that his “job, as president, is to advocate for policies that generate more opportunity for everybody … and it is important for all of us … to advocate for an America where everybody has got a fair shot in life. Not just some. Not just a few.”

However, the speech provoked a rush of criticism from some commentators— not for those words but for the president declaring that blacks should no longer use racism as an “excuse” for their own or the group’s flaws.

Confessing that “growing up … Sometimes I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down,” he went on to say that, “We’ve got no time for excuses. Not because the bitter legacy of slavery and segregation has vanished entirely; [it] has not. Not because racism and discrimination no longer exist; we know those are still out there. It’s just that in today’s hyper-connected, hyper-competitive world … nobody is going to give you anything that you have not earned.”

He urged the Morehouse men to recall both the tragedy and the heroism of black Americans’ past, and “to remember that whatever you’ve gone through, it pales in comparison to the hardships previous generations endured— and they overcame them. … You can overcome them, too.”

Such ideas and commands have always had particular appeal at historically black college and university commencements.

In fact, Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., president of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, made the same point little more than a week earlier to graduates of North Carolina Central University. “Some will discriminate against you,” he told them. “Discrimination exists, just as gravity exists. But in spite of gravity, planes take off and trees grow. Gravity is omnipresent, but it is not omnipotent.”

That the president’s words drew so much attention is, of course, because almost everything this first black president of the United States does has, either overtly or implicitly, a racialized cast to it.

But, in fact, the president’s critics misread his use of the charged words and phrases.

In one sense, that was understandable, because they were reacting to the old, tawdry American tradition of demanding that black Americans accept their second-class status. That was the cry of the Southern segregationists and their Northern fellow travelers during the years Morehouse’s most famous alumnus, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., became the central figure in the movement that would dismantle Jim Crow.

The “no excuses” meme used in that way really means: shut up and submit.

In sharp contrast, that exhortation, coming from those who have black Americans’ best interests at heart, as the president and first Lady do, actually means what those who have criticized Obama in this instance— support.

That meaning has long been alternately expressed as well by the old folk saying common among blacks: “You’ve got to be twice as good to get half as much.”

Those words were not said as a sigh of woe, but as a command to never submit, no matter how fierce the gales of racism blew.

Indeed, Obama urged his audience to remember that “Every one of you has a grandma or an uncle or a parent who’s told you that at some point in life, as an African American, you have to work twice as hard as anyone else if you want to get by. … And I promise you … that spirit of [pursuing] excellence, and hard work, and dedication, and no excuses is needed now more than ever.

In other words, the president’s “no excuses” command is a warning that the centuries-long struggle of black Americans to gain their full, deserved share of opportunity in their native land continues. That has been, and remains, each generation’s legacy— and heroic responsibility.

Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His latest book is Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America.

President Salutes Morehouse graduate Leland Shelton

Imagine this. You have earned a Phi Beta Kappa key, which makes you a member of the world’s most prestigious academic honor society. In a few days you will graduate from Morehouse College. After a quiet summer spent with family and friends you head off to Harvard Law School.

As you make final preparations for commencement day you miss several telephone calls. You are so busy, You don’t have time to retrieve your voice mail messages. One of the calls you missed was from the White House with perhaps the most exciting news of your life.

Leland Shelton knew his world would forever change after receiving his political science degree from Morehouse. His childhood hero, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Morehouse graduate. However, he told me hearing the President of the United States call his name caught him by such great surprise, his fellow graduates had to help him rise from his seat when the commander in chief told him to stand up.

Here are the words that brought to light Leland’s remarkable life story and propelled him into the national spotlight:

When Leland Shelton was four years old— where’s Leland? Stand up, Leland. When Leland was four-years-old social services took him away from his mama, put him in the care of his grandparents. By age 14, he was in the foster care system. Three years after that, Leland enrolled at Morehouse. And today he is graduating Phi Beta Kappa on his way to Harvard Law School. But he’s not stopping there. As a member of the National Foster Care Youth and Alumni Policy Council, he plans to use his law degree to make sure kids like him don’t fall through the cracks.

When I spoke with Leland it was my intention to learn who and what inspired him to complete his college degree on time. I wanted to learn more about this young man who attended Baltimore City Public Schools. First, of all he was very polite and respectful. His responses were not only articulate; Leland’s words revealed a well-grounded, thoughtful young man fully prepared to envision his life beyond the glare of instant celebrity.

Leland, who graduated from Baltimore’s City College in 2009 said, he was accepted at several colleges including the University of Delaware. However, he knew as a child he wanted to attend Morehouse College. His choice was inspired by watching the 1999 animated feature, “Our Friend Martin.” The movie tells the story of a 12-year-old African American boy who may be held back in the seventh grade, because he is not studying. He is inspired to turn his life around once he learns about the many challenges Martin Luther King, Jr. was able to overcome after completing his Morehouse education.

Leland says his grandparents were a major influence is his life and credits them as the source of his drive and tenacity. “My grandparents raised me. They never had the opportunity to go to college, but I grew up watching all the sacrifices they made for me. I knew I had to make them proud.”

His transition to college was a lonely time for Leland. “When I first came to

Atlanta [to attend Morehouse] I had no friends, no relatives. I was an okay student in high school. But, I immediately decided to dedicate the next four years to not being average” says Leland.

Another important part of his success was the financial and moral support he received from the Black Professional Men, Inc (BPM). Following the advice of his high school guidance counselor

Leland applied for and was award a thousand dollar scholarship from the Baltimore based mentorship organization.

Leland says Rodney Carter, BPM vice president was always there for him. “The money was helpful, but his guidance and mentorship was priceless. Each years BPM hosts a breakfast the Saturday before Father’s Day and awards 12 scholarships to black male high school seniors who have been accepted into some of the country’s most prestigious colleges and universities.”

Two years ago Carter called to tell me one of his students, Fagan Harris, a Stanford grad had been selected as a Rhodes scholar. In terms of high academic achievement that accomplishment would be pretty hard to top. Yet, I think most would agree a presidential shout-out is a unique recognition that not only excites the imagination, it acknowledges a student population often ignored or burdened with negative stereotypes.

As a rising junior Leland interned in the Washington, D.C. office of Senator John Kerry. “I learned a lot about the workings of our Congress. I was provided the opportunity to sit in on congressional hearings on foreign relations and briefings on SNAP benefits, and other welfare issues.” He crafted memorandums to staffers, conducted research and submitted a policy recommendation to a legislative assistant.

When asked about his future, after he completes law school, Leland plans to return to Baltimore and practice child advocacy law.

Congratulations to Leland and all the proud members of the class of 2013, with a special shout out to Jessica Brockington who graduated from Howard University.

For more information about this year’s Black Professional Men’s breakfast and awards ceremony visit: http://www.blackprofessionalmen.org/

Jayne Matthews Hopson writes about academic issues because she believes “only the educated are free.”

Baltimore Ravens Joe Flacco, Gino Gradkowski, Ed Dickson sign pledge to ban the “R” word

— Over 400 attendees arrived on site for Al Packer’s White Marsh Ford Casino Night on Saturday, May 18, 2013. They were greeted by Special Olympics Maryland (SOMD) athlete ambassadors, who were proudly donning various competition medals around their necks. The SOMD athlete ambassadors spent the evening mingling with guests in both the dealership showroom and the two tents containing casino game tables.

SOMD ambassadors were joined by a few other athletes— Baltimore Ravens Joe Flacco, Gino Gradkowski and Ed Dickson who spent the evening shaking hands and smiling for photos with Ravens fans.

The Casino Night program recognized all athletes in attendance— those with SOMD and those with the Ravens. After a SOMD athlete and his mother shared their experiences, SOMD’s President/CEO, Jim Schmutz, educated the crowd on the use of the “R” word (“retard”) and how it is hurtful to those with intellectual disabilities; the population served by SOMD.

During the program, Flacco, Gradkowski, Dickson and other guests were invited to sign a pledge to ban the “R” word, and support the “Spread the Word to End the Word” campaign. The goal of this campaign is to educate on the hurtfulness of the “R” word, no matter the context, and to remove it from people’s everyday vernacular.

“A woman came up to me and said ‘thank you for doing that,’” said Jim Schmutz, President & CEO at SOMD. “She responded by sharing that she uses the word “retard/retarded” all the time and never though anything of it. She grew up in the 70s and had no intent to offend anyone…she never will say this word again.”

Post-pledge signing, all of the athletes gathered together in General Manager Jerry Clark’s office for a group photo.

“My favorite part of the night was the interactions with Joe, Gino, and Ed back in my office,” said Jerry Clark, General Manager at Al Packer’s White Marsh Ford. The Special Olympics athletes clearly felt like rock stars, and isn’t that what it’s all about. People identify with a great charity and Special Olympics is definitely one of the best our store could hope to be involved in.”

This was the second annual Al Packer’s White Marsh Ford Casino Night, and a continuation of their support of SOMD. They also supported by sponsoring the MSP Polar Bear Plunge in January and the 2012 MDTA Tunnel Run.

When zero tolerance makes zero sense

— Kiera Wilmont a black, 16-year old straight-A student was handcuffed, arrested and charged with two felonies after her high school science experiment blew the top off a small water bottle. Kiera, an honor roll student has a reputation for being nice to everyone. She has never been in trouble with the law. However, she was expelled from school and charged as an adult. Kiera is black.

Kiera, who attended Bartow Senior High School, in Bartow, Florida, became the victim of a zero tolerance policy that disproportionately channels poor and minority students into the criminal justice system for minor incidents that warrant a more thoughtful, less life-altering reprimand.

According to the police report, “At 7:00 a.m. Monday April 30, Kiera and a classmate mixed aluminum foil and toilet bowl cleaner in a small water bottle. After about 30 seconds, the reaction created pressure inside the bottle, blowing the cap off with a pop that according to witnesses sounded like firecrackers going off. The reaction created a small amount of smoke. No one was hurt.”

Science sites familiar with the experiment describe what to expect: aluminum in the foil reacted with hydrochloric acid in the cleaner. The reaction produces hydrogen gas, which quickly builds the pressure inside the closed bottle until the plastic can’t take it any more and explodes outwards.

After the “explosion” Kiera tidied up and went to class thinking there was no problem. One can imagine her shock later in the day when police showed up to arrest, escort her off school grounds, and charge her with two felonies: possession/discharge of a weapon on school grounds” and “discharging a destructive device.”

She was also expelled from school under a zero tolerance policy, which required immediate expulsion for any student in possession of a bomb (or) explosive device — while at a school (or) a school-sponsored activity— unless the material or device is being used as part of a legitimate school-related activity or science project conducted under the supervision of an instructor.”

The aluminum foil and drain cleaner reaction is a popular high school experiment. “The problem seems to be that she wasn’t doing the experiment under controlled safety conditions, as in class or with her teachers.” Kiera told police she conducted the experiment in preparation for an upcoming science fair.

Authorities said if she had performed the experiment “in her own backyard, there would never have been an issue. But, since Kiera lives in an apartment, she “didn’t have access to any private outdoor areas.”

Public outrage over this well-publicized incident has been tremendous. It perhaps accounts for the fact that now Kiera will not be charged as an adult. At this time the felony charges are still pending. Her family is hopeful that the case will be dropped and she be allowed to return to school.

Things are looking brighter for Kiera. Her situation no doubt benefited from the national attention. Nevertheless, it makes one wonder how many other students suffer from an overzealous adherence to a policy that may or may fulfill its original intention.

A policy research report by Indiana University examines the history, philosophy and effectiveness of zero tolerance school disciplinary strategies. The following extract is an excellent departure point for a thoughtful consideration of these policies:

Growing out of Reagan-Bush era drug enforcement policy, zero tolerance discipline attempts to send a message by punishing both major and minor incidents severely. Analysis of a representative range of zero tolerance suspensions and expulsions suggests that controversial applications of the policy are not idiosyncratic, but may be inherent in zero tolerance philosophy.

There is as yet little evidence that the strategies typically associated with zero tolerance contribute to improved student behavior or overall school safety.

Research on the effectiveness of school security measures is extremely sparse, while data on suspension and expulsion raise serious concerns about both the equity and effectiveness of school exclusion as an educational intervention.

Community reaction has led some districts to adopt alternatives to zero tolerance, stressing a graduated system matching offenses and consequences, and preventive strategies, including bullying prevention, early identification, and improved classroom management. Building a research base on these alternatives is critical, in order to assist schools in developing more effective, less intrusive methods for school discipline.

Jayne Matthews Hopson, an education writer and mother of three school-aged children believes that “education matters, because only the educated are free.”

I’m just asking

What happens to students when a school closes, and what is the impact on the alumni?

As a native Baltimorean and proud graduate of the city’s public school system I am saddened each time a schoolhouse padlocks its door for the final time. These closures make me wonder if others feel the same sense of loss or displacement.

Every primary and middle school my siblings or I attended has been closed. Once shuttered, the classrooms where I learned to read, count, make friends and began my dream of earning a living as a writer, often fall upon hard times.

One of my old schools sat vacant for years, vandalized nearly beyond recognition. Another building etched into youthful memories was re-purposed into municipal use as a training facility. The middle school my brother attended became an alternative learning center for at-risk juveniles. Years after it was closed, toxic installation materials were discovered in the school where I attended kindergarten. It was quickly and quietly demolished.

During the 2013 Maryland legislative session, Baltimore City Public Schools secured permission and funding to implement a multi-million dollar facilities improvement venture. It remains to be seen if a better building equals a better education. One thing is certain, for many current students the upheaval and anxiety of going to a new, unfamiliar school will be disruptive at best and in some cases disastrous.

There is also the impact on underserved neighborhoods that desperately need the jobs and professional presence of a public school. Long after the chain grocery stores, first-run movie theaters, pharmacies and banks pulled up and moved away, schools and churches are often the only institutions left to anchor the community and offer a safe haven to residents.

I am aware that the city’s long-range plan is to replace the aging school buildings with new and better structures. But, in fragile neighborhoods, 18 months (or more) of construction and displacement can be tough on a family’s routine.

A few months ago, I heard that my high school, Northwestern is slated for closure. I can remember when the school opened. I was a seventh grader at Pimlico Junior High, which by the way closed a few years ago and is now a rather elaborate, state-of-the art police training facility. Former mayor Sheila Dixon graduated from Northwestern, a school that produced a number of doctors, lawyers, at least one public school principal and scores of professionals in other respected fields.

It’s no surprise that I’m pretty upset by the prospect of Northwestern shutting down. Given my thoughts on this issue it may seem I’m just someone resistant to change, reluctant to let go of the past. However, consider the words and thoughts of 17-year-old Alexis Banks,

a senior who spoke out publicly in protest of the planned closing of her high school. “Every student should have a high school to go back to, to say, ‘This is where I came from. This is what got me where I am.” Alexis, has been accepted to seven colleges including Virginia Tech and offered a full scholarship at Towson University.

Moving on, I’m just asking… am I the only one disturbed by the fact that one of the alleged Boston Marathon bombers had failed seven college courses without getting kicked out of the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth?

In my years as an educational advocate for poor and African American students, I have seen several young people who struggled academically be dismissed from a white college after failing two or three classes. To me this is an unbelievable footnote to the bombing that killed three bystanders and seriously injured over a 250 people. Nevertheless it’s true!

The New York Times obtained a copy of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s college transcript. The 19-year-old University of Massachusetts (UMASS) student had seven Fs over three semesters, a D and a D-plus in two other courses. Ironically, one of his failing grades was in “Introduction to American Politics.

According to the school’s website the average GPA of accepted students is 3.25. Yet, he was a white, foreign-born student with grades that put him well below the college’s academic standards.

A former classmate reports that Tsarnaev said he wasn’t doing as well as he expected because going from high school to college is “totally different.”

Reports indicate he was in this country on a student visa, which would have been revoked if the school had kicked him out of college for academic failure. This is of course pure speculation, but perhaps the Boston Marathon tragedy could have been avoided with more diligent and fair academic oversight by UMASS.

Jayne Matthews Hopson, an education writer and mother of three school-aged children believes that “Education matters, because only the educated are free.”