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The Discovery Program changed my life

Stephon Johnson | 4/23/2012, 10:41 p.m.

Originally published May 18, 2011.

During the spring of 1996, I was preparing for the Sequential 1 Math Regents exam in 8th grade. My math teacher, Dr. Serigne Gningue, who is of Senegalese decent, had been hard on my case all school year. It wasn't any different from the other years I spent with him at Thomas C. Giordano Middle School 45 in the Bronx's Little Italy.

Ever since I stepped foot in the school, Gningue was on my case. I did well in his class, but I always got in trouble for talking too much or talking back to him. While I wasn't a bad kid, I did have a mouth on me when I felt like being a pest. I spent many afternoons in detention, usually with Gningue.

But he eventually told me the reason why he pushed me so hard once I got to 8th grade and took Sequential 1 Math with him. As one of the few black students in my Giordano Prep program (reserved for the so-called "gifted" kids in the school), he saw potential in me and wanted to make sure I capitalized on my talents. Even when it came to choosing my high school, he was in the picture.

Earlier that year, I had taken the Specialized High School exam with the hopes of going to Brooklyn Tech. Being a Bronx native, I was excited to finally travel and curious about going to school in another borough. But Mr. Gningue had other plans. Once I got the scores to the test back (I got into Brooklyn Tech, so I was excited, but missed Bronx Science by a few points), he pushed for me to try the Summer Discovery Program (which helps kids from "disadvantaged backgrounds" make their way to the city's specialized high schools) at Bronx Science because I'd have "more opportunities there." He figured that if I tried the program and didn't like it, I could just go to Brooklyn Tech. If I did like it, and the school liked me, I could stay.

The Summer Discovery Program was a godsend. Not only did I meet people who have become friends for life, but my four-year experience at Bronx Science was unlike any other. While I had my share of ups and downs there, the work ethic that I solidified at Bronx Science has helped me in my adult life.

But it seems as if the Summer Discovery Program is either being phased out or ignored. The number of black and Latino students at Bronx Science, Stuyvesant and Brooklyn Tech has steadily been declining. According to InsideSchools.org, the number of blacks and Latinos at the three aforementioned schools are 8 percent Hispanic and 3 percent black at Bronx Science, 3 percent Hispanic and 2 percent black at Stuyvesant and 12 percent black and 8 percent Hispanic at Brooklyn Tech.

"This year has shown you that you can achieve whatever you want to achieve in your life if you do the right thing!" Gningue wrote in 1996 in my middle school yearbook, which I still have. "Keep that in mind! Work hard as you have always done. You're bright and you would know that you can go as far as you want." Gningue was there for me and alerted me to the Summer Discovery Program, which put me on the path to great relationships and a great foundation. It's a shame that so many of the city's top specialized high schools are trying to avoid it like a disease.