Addressing the Opportunity Gap for Students in Newark, NJ

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In the landscape of education reform, much of the conversation is about metrics like standardized test scores and graduation rates that define the “achievement gap.” What I have learned from my experience at BRICK Academy and with Education Pioneers, however, is that an “opportunity gap” precedes unequal achievement. For example, Newark, New Jersey is the state’s largest and one of its most densely populated cities. It has a poverty rate three times the state average and faces challenges, like a high crime rate, that are correlated with impoverished communities. Furthermore, only 12.7% of residents over the age of 25 have obtained a bachelor’s degree. It is in this environment that over 35,000 students and families navigate the state’s largest public school system each year.

Finding myself in this setting, I was grateful that my primary project for BRICK addressed the opportunity gap that exists for many Newark students at home. I spent the majority of my summer developing a business plan for a boarding facility to provide an alternate, healthy, and stable living environment for Newark’s most vulnerable children. With only a handful of existing models for public and charter boarding schools in other urban centers, I grew my knowledge of best practices from existing models. I met with key stakeholders at BRICK and in Newark, and interviewed leaders spearheading similar initiatives around the country. Underlying this work, I used my NYU Stern business acumen to produce a plan for a boarding facility. I am hopeful that my work will help close the opportunity gap for Newark’s students so that they can achieve more in their education.

My internship came to a close yesterday by greeting BRICK’s teachers for their first day of their Summer Teacher Institute, for which I coordinated logistics. I helped to cheer them on as they exited the elevators began the new school year. I handed out BRICK tote bags (designed by me and pictured above), post-its, and other supplies that teachers will find helpful. While I am sad to part with this strong community, I was reassured by sense of hope and positive energy among BRICK’s dedicated teachers. I am encouraged by the work that teachers and other education leaders are doing in Newark, and I am grateful to SIIF, Education Pioneers, and BRICK Academy to have been part of it.

Humbly,

Jamie Farris

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