A Voice for the Future of America: HISD Budget Reductions

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         Michael E. DeBakey High School for Health Professions has been recognized as the number one high school in Houston (Children at Risk 2017-2018). It ranks in the top 20 high schools in America (U.S. News and World Report), and was the world’s first high school to specialize in medical professions. As it did for those before us, DeBakey High School serves as a safe, enriching environment where we are able to challenge ourselves academically as well as creatively, through our UIL competitions and clubs.  Despite all this, the Houston Independent School District plans to cut our funding by $1,250,000, approximately 23% of DeBakey’s current budget. This reduction is the highest among all high schools in the district by a large margin. In the past, DeBakey has been assured by the board that the district supported our endeavors, a promise that allowed DeBakey to become a nationally recognized school. The HISD Board of Education’s continued support now, more than ever, is vital to maintaining our high academic standards.

The students of DeBakey High School have recognized the risks of the proposed budget cuts and write to prevent these changes from occurring.

Potential Losses:

  • Staff and faculty - 4 teachers, 1 police officer, 2 clerks, 3 graduate students workers
  • Advanced Placement (AP) Classes - statistics, computer science, psychology, Spanish, art, environmental science, seminar, research, human geography
  • Fine Arts electives - dance, orchestra, music appreciation, gymnastics
  • Field lessons
  • Before and after school tutorials
  • Club activities (all UIL competitions included)

             The current budget could force DeBakey to lose 4 teachers, 6 other faculty members, before and after school tutorials, 10 of our valued college-level Advanced Placement courses, all UIL competitions, and more. The complete DeBakey experience not only involves the health science courses, hospital rotations, and the rigor of core classes, but also advanced placement elective courses and liberal arts classes. These courses not only expose students to a greater variety of subject matters and challenges, but also enhance their learning experiences by simulating college rigor. In fact, several graduates of DeBakey suggest that while core classes encouraged them to pursue a career strictly within the medical field, elective classes helped to narrow down their interests, encourage a disciplined work schedule, and even direct them towards a different career path - one which proved to be more promising for the student. These classes encourage students to go beyond what is expected of them and allow them to delve into relatively foreign material. The tremendous budget cuts the board is proposing would force DeBakey High School to let go of many of these AP electives, removing the very courses that give our school national recognition. Such efforts to equalize the financial and educational playing field for all schools only serve as a detriment to high performing schools such as our own.

The “Elective” AP Classes
           It should not come as a surprise that America fails to rank in the top ten countries with proficient educations when school districts belittle courses that are not considered core to a students’ education. Essentially, the budget cut leaves DeBakey with only enough funding to support the AP “core classes” like sciences, math, English, and social studies. AP classes that are considered simply “electives” (statistics, computer science, psychology, Spanish, art, environmental science, research, human geography) are being cut.
         While HISD may see these classes as “just electives,” the students of DeBakey certainly do not. Ajani Smith-Washington, from the Class of 2017, reflects how without electives and AP offerings, such as AP Statistics, he would not have been able to “conduct medical research, co-found a refugee assistance organization, and participate in national debate competitions.” He also exclaims that he certainly would not have been able to receive over $2,000,000 in merit scholarships and get accepted into prestigious institutions such as Harvard, Stanford, Georgetown, Duke, Rice, and John Hopkins, just to name a few. He is not alone in students who have realized that these elective courses molded them into who they are today. Many students and alumni have raised their concern about the situation and have shared their thoughts, some of which can be viewed in the link provided. 

 Testimonies of students, teachers, and alumni:  https://goo.gl/1BKnEM

           Moreover, certain colleges (including but not limited to Vanderbilt University, Rice University, University of Notre Dame) will award as many as 4 credits for certain AP courses, such as psychology (an elective course to be removed at Debakey). Psychology is either required by many medical schools, such as Brown University, or recommended as a behavioral science course. Moreover, psychology is a considerable portion of the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT), constituting a third of one of the 4 sections. Thus, AP Psychology is one of several valuable courses which we have been given the privilege to take that not only benefits students in their undergraduate years but also in the following 4 years in medical school, which is a track many of us at DeBakey High School for Health Professions are pursuing. In addition, if students take this course in high school for free (or having paid the dues for AP tests - $94), then they would not need to pay upwards to $4,000 per course in college, according to Business Insider.

Fine Arts
           DeBakey is somewhat of an extracurricular desert, with a significant relief from the curriculum being the fine arts available. This budget cut will remove both dance and orchestra as electives, leaving only art and theatre. The facility built for orchestra will sit abandoned, just like us, if the budget cuts are imposed. These are the classes that offer more creativity and personal expression than any English or math class could ever allow for, and removing these programs would greatly decrease the quality of education. More importantly, these classes make school enjoyable for students who are endlessly inundated by the rigorous demands of their core classes. If we want to create leaders and contributors to society, and not test-taking robots, then we have to overturn this budget cut.

Before and After School Tutorials
            Another significant activity which is scheduled to be cut due to the deficit is our afterschool programs. No longer will students be able to stay past school hours to meet for clubs or get extra help from teachers. This will now, instead, be crammed into our study hall and lunch periods, which amount to 80 minutes total. Tutorials allow teachers to offer one-on-one help to students in need. After-school tutorials can reach as many as 30 students on certain days for the classes HISD seems to support, core classes like Pre-AP Chemistry and Calculus. Many students rely on tutorials because DeBakey is a Title One school with a vast majority of low-income students who cannot afford private tutors.

             The after school tutorials are essential in ensuring the success of students as they allow a chance for students struggling to catch up on the curriculum. The funding cuts affect every person in our student body, not only those who are aiming to take the APs slated to be removed. This equity of DeBakey allows several disadvantaged students to perform at such high levels because of the programs in place now. Without after school tutorials, students will perform at a lower standard.

Club Activities
               Furthermore, our clubs allow students to go beyond the curriculum and explore hobbies, volunteer, or simply bond with a group of like-minded people. In a vocational high school such as DeBakey, we are limited to our range of activities outside of the medical field. The after school activities and UIL competitions give us the opportunity to expound our interests and truly discover what it is we are passionate about.
             The issue resonates in our courses and activities, but it also resonates far beyond the classes we are scheduled to take next year. It reveals the continuous fault in American society. We have been restricted from our right to education. We have excelled beyond the standards, yet now, we are being told to stop, settle for the norm, settle for average. In our generation, it has been engraved in our minds to innovate, to be the best- yet if not given the chance to do so, the future of our school lies in pieces. It is not only the students and staff affected by these cuts. We are educated to prepare to lead the future. The future of the world lies in the palms of those holding pencils, sitting behind desks, and fighting for our rights to an education.

          The one word that moved a family, “DeBakey”. Tenth grader Amelia Pham and her family moved their entire lives to take advantage of the opportunities reputable of DeBakey. They heard of the classes available, the rigor and challenge, and they took a chance. The reputation of DeBakey has stood strong for many years, and we hope it is able to continue to do so. However, if classes such as AP Statistics, AP Psychology, and AP Research are gone, where will we stand?
           We understand that there is a district-wide deficit and that schools unfortunately must lose some funding. If DeBakey were to lose the magnitude of money proposed, it would be a loss for not only our education, but the district as well. We have already been cut on magnet funds and now we are losing even more money. We propose that the district decrease the cuts for the reasons stated above.
          Students have moved over 500 miles, spent over 12 hours in transport and in school, and woken up before the sun rises to get the education and experience that DeBakey has provided. The teachers at DeBakey truly care about the well-being and success of their students, leading the students to do so as well. By signing, you advocate for the students, the faculty members, and the future of America. The student body of Michael E. DeBakey High School for Health Professions greatly appreciates your support.

 Written and edited by Chloe Nguyen, Neeharika Venturupalli, Lisa Lin, Desi Griffin, and Nithya Erabelli


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