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Howard Students Fight Educational Disparities and Incarceration

WASHINGTON—They could have gone to any of a dozen cities where the comforts of home awaited them. They could have hopped onto a plane and headed for a beach on the Florida coast or more exotic locales, like Jamaica, the Bahamas or Cozumel.

Instead, they have skipped the beach or the trip back home to help educate children and to talk with other students on the importance of continuing their education after high school.

Natalie Cone, the site coordinator for Washington, and the other students looked at the gap in the education of white students and others and decided this is where they wanted to be over the break.

Their work here from March 15 to March 19 is part of the university’s annual Alternative Spring Break, in which every year hundreds of students volunteer to participate in the student-run, student financed program.

This year, nearly 300 Howard students will be working on youth development in Atlanta and Washington, on gun violence in Chicago, on literacy in Detroit and on the environment and other issues in New Orleans.

The students raised $25,350 Sunday, March 7, during a 12-hour radiothon with WHUR 96.3 to help fund their efforts.

Cone, a legal communications manager, said she and 22 other students are concentrating on a number of efforts. The first, she said, is educational disparity.

“Seventy-four percent of white fourth graders are reading at a fourth grade level,” she said. “But only 15 percent of Latino fourth grader and only 9 percent of African American fourth graders are reading on that level. That’s unacceptable, and we want to help.”

The students are serving as teachers’ aides at Malcolm X, Turner at Green, Simon, Francis Stevens, and Stanton elementary schools, all in Southeast Washington, and Stokes Public Charter School.

The students also want to disrupt the steady stream of young African Americans who enter the justice system and never come out.

“It starts when they are young, as teenagers,” she said. “They go to juvenile detention, and then it progresses until they find themselves facing 20 years or more in prison.”

They are working with juvenile offenders on parole at Safe Passages program at Cleverly Baptist Church in Washington.

“So far, everyone is learning and growing through this trip, which is something I like,” Cone said.

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