I Heart My School: Asa Philip Randolph

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Our scholarship runner-up is a student at AP Randolph in Harlem, heading to the University of Southern California

Last week, we announced the winner of our fall 2017 I Heart My School Scholarship: Joy Crutchfield, with a detailed essay about why she loves Northern Arizona University.

We received so many wonderful entries, however, that we wanted to share a few more stories about why students around the country love their schools. Our first runner-up is high school senior Tamia Ejekpokpo, who wrote her essay about her Harlem high school that defied its reputation — Asa Philip Randolph — and is heading to the University of Southern California.

Do you love your school? Apply for our spring I Heart My School scholarship.

Take the one train uptown, past the Art Deco buildings of the Empire State and Chrysler, and there will be a smiling person handing out a flyer asking you to check out the latest Broadway show. He will give you a special deal — a deal he gives all pedestrians. We are almost there.

Now catch the crosstown train to connect to the E train in Times Square, also known as the world’s meeting point. As you step off 137th Street station, take a deep breath and smell the different spices from the halal cart. Open your ears to the conversing Dominican mother speaking to her children in Spanish as she drops them off. Welcome! You have arrived in the neighborhood I call home: Harlem.

Known to the outside world for its rich African-American roots, the historical complexities of the Harlem Renaissance showcased African-American music, resistance to social norms and artistic capabilities to all that congregated here. The Apollo Theater, which was home to many Renaissance greats such as Ella Fitzgerald and James Brown, remains untouched. My school, Asa Philip Randolph Campus High School, has history carved all over it. Asa Philip Randolph (A.P. Randolph), who the school is named after, was a Civil Rights activist, writer, and labor leader. The confluence of the history and the surrounding neighborhoods is a part of my identity as a black woman.

One would imagine it’s a wonderful place to grow up: We have history, culture, and a connection to the community from the roots that were planted in the decades prior. However, this community has been hit hard.

When I first entered Randolph, I was terrified of the school due to the news reports of students being shot and an unfunny and dangerous prank taking place before I began: Seniors brought chickens to the school and let them loose. Moreover, they started a fires in the school stair cases for senior prank. I even saw live chickens being used to terrorize students! That was AP Randolph — the one we would hear about in the evening news. But this was not the AP Randolph I experienced. In Randolph, I found my focus and uncovered a world of opportunities.

Randolph is divided into three houses: humanities, medical, and engineering. The smaller learning communities group students together that share similar interests. In the humanities house, students take Introduction to Humanities, Research Methods, and Language of Argument. My favorite class was Intro to Humanities because it delved into psychology and controversial topics like the psychological reasons someone becomes a killer.

My school does not have the means to fund a theater program or class, so the school compensates us by allowing students to meet performing artists from Harlem Stage, who discuss their experience in the performing arts industry. We also get the rare opportunity see in-demand shows like Hamilton and Wicked. These experiences help us pinpoint which career we gravitate toward.

The competitive medical program hosts an after-school program named “Gateway,” where medical students are surrounded by like-minded peers and meet guest speakers in the medical field. Gateway is known for its annual Buddy Day, where upperclassmen pair with underclassmen and share advice and life lessons.

Testing toxins on worms and gelling electrodes in brain caps are not the norm for everyday people, but students in Backyard Toxicology and partnered internships at City College do this to test the effects of certain factors on the nervous system and brain. In the engineering house, students using computer systems to create 3D base models.

Through our experiences at school and home, we constantly persist through adversity. Back in May, a month before the Advanced Placement exam, my classmates and I received an invoice from my school stating that some of us will have to pay $98 for each AP exam. Moreover, when we spoke to our school’s administrators, they informed us they did not have the budget to cover these unexpected expenses. Ms. Kurfress, my AP English teacher, myself, and other affected students decided to band together and hold a fundraiser to make sure my classmates and I were able to pay for the exams. We only had 2 weeks to raise $900. We asked our school’s faculty for donations and we received about $200 in donations. My classmates and I came up with the idea to sell popcorn, cookies, and other food items at the upcoming PTA meeting and during lunch. We raised $300. By the end of the week, we were able to meet our funds. This seemingly impossible feat was able to be reached because of the community felt at my high school, faculty and the students came together to help one another. Randolph has embedded in me the will to be resilient in a world where minorities are constantly undermined.

At Randolph, I am surrounded by peers who are always striving for more than what they were given. We are given opportunities to express our artistic talents and showcase them. Students were able to express themselves artistically through painting murals. Our most recent mural depicts Dr. Lottie Taylor, the first principal of AP Randolph. Not only that, our school holds the annual Cultural Dance Festival where we honor our cultures and celebrate diversity through exploring the dances of different cultures. To celebrate the four years of high school, seniors participate in monthly senior activities such as Pajama Day and Costume Day. Through these fun and inclusive experiences, I have been able to get to know my peers, which reminds us we are not here to sit in a classroom and listen to our teachers, but our fellow students. We are a community: the AP Randolph community.

— Tamia Ejekpokpo, AP Randolph