By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN
(CNN) – As Quanesha Wallace remembers, it was around this time last year when the idea first came up at Wilcox County High School. It was nothing big, just chatter about prom, school, what comes next, what they'd change.
If things were different, someone said, we'd all go to the same prom.
For as long as anyone could remember, students in their South Georgia community went to separate proms, and homecoming dances, too. White students from Wilcox County attend one. Black students, another. They’re private events organized by parents and students, not the school district. Schools have long been desegregated, but in Wilcox County, the dances never changed.
The friends all agreed they'd go to an integrated prom, Quanesha said, and when they asked, others said, "Yeah, I'd go, too."
"We are all friends," Quanesha's friend, Stephanie Sinnot, told CNN affiliate WGXA-TV in Macon, Georgia. "That's just kind of not right that we can't go to prom together."
So now it's April, and prom is coming up, and these black and white friends, longtime pals who go to classes together and play sports together and hang out together, are going to prom together, too. For the first time, students are organizing an integrated dance, one that welcomes any of Wilcox County High's 400 students.
"This is going to be the biggest prom ever to come through Wilcox County," said Quanesha, one of the event's organizers.
The theme will be "Masquerade Ball in Paris." There will be an Eiffel Tower and Mardi Gras-style masks, dancing, flowers, catered food and a clubhouse in nearby Cordele. They're expecting gowns, ties, manicures, up-dos, sparkle. Quanesha has a date, although she hasn't decided on a dress.
"If you want to get fancy, get fancy," said Quanesha, 18. "If you don't, that's fine."
Attendees will vote on a king and queen but also cutest couple, best smile, best dressed. They'll do a recognition ceremony for a classmate who died. They'll start a new prom tradition: a unity toast.
(CNN) - Camden, New Jersey, is not an easy place for a kid to grow up in.Just ask 15-year-old Destinee Williams."Camden has this reputation of being dangerous because you can walk outside at 3 in the afternoon and hear gunshots," Destinee said. "Gangs and drugs are a huge deal. Kids get into gangs to feel safe so they won't get killed."
Unfortunately, Destinee has had to deal with too many killings in her young life.
"My father was murdered in Camden last year, and my cousin was murdered (last month)," she said. "In the last month, I know of at least three people getting killed. In Camden, I expect it to happen. I'm not surprised anymore."
For many people, the violence in Camden can make it feel more like a war zone than an American city, but the battle doesn't end there.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 42% of Camden's population is living below the poverty line, making it one of the poorest cities in the United States. The New Jersey Department of Education reports that nearly 90% of Camden's schools are in the bottom 5% performance-wise in the state.
About 42% of Camden's population is living below the poverty line, making it one of the poorest cities in the United States.
"For too long, the public school system in Camden has failed its children," New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Monday, when he announced the state would be taking over the city's schools. "Each day that it gets worse, we're failing the children of Camden, we're denying them a future, we're not allowing them to reach their full potential."
Camden may seem like a city without hope, but one of its native daughters is on a mission to change its downtrodden reputation and empower its youngest residents.
Tawanda Jones started a dance team, the Camden Sophisticated Sisters Drill Team, to entice young girls to stay off the street and do something positive with their lives. Over the years, she has incorporated boys into the team and also started a drum line program.
"People perceive Camden and its kids as garbage," Jones said. "We have so many gifted kids. They want more out of life. There's just nothing in our city to do. Therefore, what happens when a child has idle time and no positive way to channel that energy? They have to find something else. And it just may turn into the dark side."
Through the drill team, Jones aims to teach kids about discipline, dedication and self-respect, things she believes are necessary to survive and thrive in this rough community and beyond.
"Whether you need it for work, you need it for school, you need discipline, period," said Jones, 40. "Drill team is good as far as structure, because you have to be precise. You have to be on point."
"If they get too many Cs, we put them on academic probation," Jones said. "We don't want to kick a child out because they're not doing well in school, so on my days off I go to the child's school just to correspond with the teacher. I'll just make sure that the child is doing well or (see) what we can do on our end to help that child get to where she needs to be."
Editor's note: Zach Wahls is the author of "My Two Moms: Lessons of Love, Strength and What Makes a Family," an Eagle Scout and the founder of Scouts for Equality, the national campaign to end the Boy Scouts of America's ban against openly gay members and leaders.
(CNN) - When I was 10, the school that hosted my Cub Scout pack told us we needed to find a new home. The Boy Scouts of America's policy of prohibiting gay Scouts and Scoutmasters - which the Supreme Court had recently affirmed - violated the school's nondiscrimination policy.
I was confused, because my den mother, Jackie - who is my actual mother - was a lesbian, and nobody in our unit had any issue with that.
The school district in Iowa City, Iowa, was adamant. We had to go. It would not host an organization that discriminated against gay people.
We managed to find an alternative sponsor, a church not too far away. My mother continued to be den mother. But some parents pulled their kids from the pack, uncomfortable with entrusting their sons to an organization they believed engaged in discrimination. Unfortunately, because of the Boy Scouts of America's shortsighted policy, many of the boys who left my pack missed out on learning the lifelong principles, values and skills that Scouting offers.
Those enlightened Iowa parents I remember so clearly were one of the reasons that, a decade later, I founded Scouts for Equality, the national campaign to end the Boy Scouts of America's ban on gay members. After meeting den mother Jennifer Tyrrell, a lesbian who had been kicked out of Scouting, it was clear that what I had learned in Scouting demanded action.
Our organization trained Scouts in grass-roots organizing, led petition drives that gathered 1.4 million signatures, and provided emotional support to advocates as they dealt with character assassination and homophobic vandalism.
But last week, in an unexpected move, it announced that its national board is considering a policy change to end the organization's high-profile national ban on gay members and leaders. It would leave the decision to include gays up to local units.Although the move would only shift the ability to discriminate from the national level to the local, it would be an important step in the right direction.
There should be no doubt that this move will open the Scouting program to more youth, and that's something we should all be celebrating. First of all, more school districts such as the one I grew up in will be able to resume their sponsorship of Scouting units, offering space for Scouts to meet, develop skills and enjoy one another's friendship. Meeting in local elementary schools always made the most sense for the Boy Scouts anyway: They're in the neighborhood, centrally located and have more than adequate resources to host Scouting programs.
Among the hundreds of thousands crowding the National Mall on Monday for the second inauguration of President Barack Obama, there will be 26 students from University City High School near St. Louis. The students won an all-expense-paid trip to Washington, D.C., to witness history, and they'll be seated beside U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill.
By Donna Krache, CNN
(CNN) – Imagine a college championship bowl game where the teams are Northwestern and Northern Illinois.
The Wildcats and Huskies are not exactly the first teams that come to mind when you think of football powerhouses, but according to the New America Foundation, they are academic giants among the teams in this year’s Bowl Championship Series.
In its sixth annual Academic BCS, the foundation rated Northwestern No. 1 and Northern Illinois No. 2 among the 25 college teams in this season's final BCS standings.
How did they determine the rankings? The Education Policy team at the New America Foundation considers several factors. It calculates the difference between an entire football team’s graduation rate versus that of the other male students at the school; the graduation gap between black and white players on the team versus the same gap among the total male enrollment at the school; and the gap between the graduation rate of black football players versus all black males at the college.
The Education Policy team also factors in the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate, which according to the NCAA’s website is “a term-by-term measure of eligibility and retention for Division I student-athletes that was developed as an early indicator of eventual graduation rates.”
According to the Education Policy team’s formula, Northwestern was ranked No. 1 because it has a 90% graduation rate among its football players, with no graduation gap between its white and black players.
By Moni Basu, CNN
(CNN) – Penn State has had its share of controversy for a while, but this week it is getting some more unwanted attention.
The university's Chi Omega sorority chapter is under investigation after a photo with Mexican stereotypes surfaced on a social media site.
It shows a group of sorority members dressed in ponchos and sombreros and wearing fake mustaches. One woman holds a sign that says: "Will mow lawn for weed + beer." Another sign says: "I don't cut grass. I smoke it."
The photograph was taken at a Mexican-themed party around Halloween, according to the independent college blog, Onward State. It was posted last week on Tumblr.
The university's Panhellenic Council said it had received concerns about the photo and that the council does not condone derogatory behavior from members.
"The Penn State Panhellenic Council recognizes the offensive nature of the photo and is therefore taking the matter very seriously," the executive board said in a statement.Read the full story from In America
by Deena Zaru, CNN
(CNN) Some kids spend after-school hours and weekends at music classes and football practice. For these kids, summer is the time for space camp and swimming lessons. But those whose families struggle to pay the bills and can’t afford extras often miss out on these educational experiences. And as their classmates progress, some find themselves getting further behind.
According to sociologist Roxanna Harlow, there is a direct link between poverty and a child’s level of educational achievement. And in Carroll County, MD, where over 90 percent of the population is white, kids of color face a unique set of challenges.
“I feel strongly that good education should be accessible to everybody, especially these extras that can really make the difference,” said Harlow. “We don’t turn anyone away based on money.”
Dr. Harlow founded Higher Learning Inc. (HLI), a non-profit organization that “provides active educational enrichment for underserved youth” because she was moved by the contrast between the affluent college students she taught and the young people she encountered on the street corners of Baltimore and her native Chicago, who had few opportunities to succeed.
The program offers Saturday sessions during the school year as well as two summer sessions.
“I decided to start a program that targeted students of color who are lower income and behind the most in terms of educational achievement” said Harlow, “and I chose to focus on academic experiences that they would not get in school.”
(CNN) - A senior with a big smile is wearing an even bigger smile after this weekend’s Homecoming at St. Lucie West Centennial High School in Port St.Lucie, Florida.
Hakam Daley has not had it easy. He has cerebral palsy and has been in and out of foster homes most of his life. But he has many friends at school who nominated him for homecoming king.
“When I heard the message, I had no words to describe,” Daley said. “I was so happy.”
Kayla Donohue, a cheerleader and friend of Daley’s, secretly got the other seniors to nominate him for the court. Donohue said it was important to give Daley this “special experience that he’d remember the rest of his life.”
On Friday night, Daley lined up with other kids on the court, football stars and other popular students to hear who would be chosen king.
As they called his name, Daley did something he had never done before: With the help of caregivers, he walked in public.
When they announced that he was chosen king, Daley’s smile beamed brighter than ever.
Surrounded by teary-eyed students and flashing cameras, the kid with the big smile became the most popular guy in school. (WPBF video)