Let the Kids Speak: Alana, Seventh Grader from Baton Rouge

So far, seventh grade has been the best school year I've ever had. One of the most exciting things is that I’ve become a member of the National Beta Club Society—which you get into for getting high grades—for the second year in a row. But I don’t do well in school just for awards. I do it because I like the challenge, and want to do everything I can now to prepare for my future as a civil rights lawyer. 

When I’m not studying, reading books is one of my favorite ways to challenge myself. Even though I’m in seventh grade, sometimes I read eighth-grade books, or ninth-grade books if those books are interesting. I tend to think some of the books on my level are boring, so I kind of read above my level. I just finished reading The Giver for the second time. The first time I only read the first few chapters, but couldn’t get past the introduction. This time, my teacher suggested I keep going, so I did. I liked how each chapter added something different that you didn't think was going to happen. By the time you get to the end, everything is totally different from what you expected. The society in the book looks like it's all amazing; it seems like a utopia. But at the end you realize the community is really a dystopia—we learned that word in class.

In history, we talked about how America slightly looks like a utopia, but the Constitution doesn't actually give you some of the rights that you think you have. Sometimes America can feel like a utopia, and people in other countries who don’t know what it’s like here might feel like we have freedom. But really, how much freedom you have in America depends on who you are—and there are so many things not everyone has the option of doing.

After I finish eighth grade, I plan on attending Baton Rouge High. In my opinion—and from the state scores—it’s one of the best schools in Baton Rouge Parish. I like schools where I know I can get the academics I want, and also do extracurricular activities like art and cheerleading. When I graduate from High School, I plan on going to college—multiple colleges, actually. For starters, I would like to attend LSU and study criminal justice. Then, I want to go to Princeton to get my law degree so that I can become a lawyer.

I know that some people go into law because they want to “fight bad guys,” but not me. Every day on the news, I see so many people going to jail—and some of those people might be innocent or might be going to jail for too long if you look at what they did. We see this happening every day, but we never get to hear both sides of the story. I want to tell the side of the story that we don’t hear on the news. I want to be the one defending the people who don't have all the money to be defended in the ways the law says they should.

I’ve also thought about becoming a history teacher. I’ve always liked history class because I think about history as a way to understand today. History lets you know your rights and why you have them. It also helps us appreciate things we have now, like the lightbulb and electricity. We take little stuff for granted, but at the time it was invented, no one else had it.

I know I can become a lawyer, or teacher, or anything I want if I continue studying and paying as close attention in class as I can. I have noticed that if the teacher says it twice, it's important—and if they write it down, it's really important. I am also careful to hang around people who really help me study. One of my closest friends at school recently helped me with a homework assignment I didn’t understand. She told me which paragraphs to look in and if I still didn't understand it, to call her back. She sometimes asks me for help with things she doesn't understand, too. I'm better at history, and she's better at math, so it balances out.

What adults can do to help me is remind me every once in a while to read a book, or go work on my homework. I like to be independent and challenge myself on my own, but every once in a while, I just want to hear that they're still concerned. Most of the adults that surround me on a day-to-day basis are really supportive, just like my friends—so I know I have the support I need to succeed at all of the challenging things I want to do. 

Read more about students' experiences in school in​ The Opportunity Myth—then take the first step by requesting your own free action guide featuring tools and advice to help more students in your community have worthwhile experiences in school. 

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, stands in front of her students while introducing them to the captivating world of science

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, introduces her students to the captivating world of science.

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