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My Battle with Public Education

Staff Blog

My Battle with Public Education

Baleigh McCuskey

I am a direct product of public education. However, I consider myself one of the lucky ones; one of the few who learned how to work the system instead of falling victim to it. I grew up in a rural community north of Reno, NV and I attended public schools from kindergarten all the way through high school. My dad is a teacher at the high school I attended and my mom worked as the registrar at my high school before moving to the district office. My sister and brother attend public school. None of us had the luxury of attending private schools. That is just our reality.

As of 2016, the state of Nevada dropped to dead last in the education ranking in the United States. Growing up in Nevada’s public education system, I could see why. My schools were all overcrowded, underfunded, and understaffed. My dad always worked the afterschool programs and summer school so that we had enough money to cover our extracurricular activities. The system was a mess. All of us students were told that this is what it was like. We were told we were never going to get out of Reno, let alone Nevada, because we would never be able to match the education other people were receiving in other states.  I saw almost every student from my high school choose to go to the local state school and local community college if they didn’t choose to drop out or go into the military.

After watching this vicious cycle for years, I decided I was not going to fall into the trap. I learned what steps I needed to take to get out, and I did all of them. I signed up for the honors track, took 11 college classes while in high school, and graduated valedictorian of my high school before being accepted to Pomona College, a top ranking private institution in Southern California. I thought that I had done it, that I had beaten the statistics. I thought I was never going to have to struggle to get through the education system again.

Fast-forward to today, where I am halfway through my college career. Today, I think about the disparities between public and private education more than I ever have. Going to a school like Pomona, it is very clear who attended private schools versus those of us that didn’t. I see kids everywhere breezing through college because they had the resources beforehand to feel comfortable in the environment I had been thrust into. They don’t go to professors’ office hours. They don’t struggle to read the texts we are given because they have been doing this for years. However, I can’t count the number of times I’ve gone into office hours only to hear the words “you should have learned this in high school” repeated to me over and over again. Hearing these words, I always felt embarrassed to admit I went to public school, so we didn’t learn anything this advanced.

Talking to other students from public education at my college, I know that I am not alone in feeling this way. All of us from the public education system feel at a disadvantage and embarrassed when put in these situations. What’s worse is that we should not feel this way at all. What I have found is that public education systems in every state are putting students at the same disadvantages. I joined Evolve to combat this feeling of inadequacy. Despite what the new administration and Betsy DeVos think, a majority of students in this country rely on public education. It is a system that was made for the majority, not the elite minority. However, that notion seems to have been lost in recent times. I am working with Evolve to bring resources back to public education, and to show students that their education is still important to a majority of the population, even if the President cannot count himself in that majority. No one should ever be embarrassed about being part of the public education system and Evolve is working to make sure future generations will never have that feeling.