A Better Chance, Class of 1975
I guess one can say I am an A Better Chance “O.G.”. My independent school journey begins in 1972. At the time we were living on 125th Street in Harlem. My junior high school guidance counselor introduced me and several other students to the A Better Chance Program. With the encouragement of my homeroom teacher, and others, I applied to the program, never believing I would be accepted. In late spring of 1972, I received an acceptance letter from the Middlesex School, Concord, Mass. I had been admitted to the class of 1975.
That fall I arrived on the Middlesex campus by myself. I took a Greyhound Bus to Boston, then a taxicab to the school. I pulled up to the administration building, was welcomed by a senior, and then quickly shuttled off to my dorm with a welcome packet in hand. That night was probably the loneliest and most terrifying night of my young life. I had never been away from home and I didn’t think I would ever get through the first week, let alone the first year of boarding school.
At the time there were only a handful of Black and Latino students at Middlesex. I often felt out of place, mostly because I shared very little in common with my more affluent schoolmates. Many lived in expensive homes and often spoke of taking trips to Europe or other exotic places. There were several wealthy students from Central and South America who I suspect were recruited because they were outstanding soccer players.
Like many students of color I earned a certain amount of respect through sports. I played basketball, and a little baseball and football. Sports were the great equalizer. Many cross racial friendships were developed through sports. Some of my closest white friends were basketball players or other athletes. I noticed early on that many of the stronger independent school teams (particularly basketball) showcased urban-bred students of color. We came to know each other fairly well and always looked for each other at school mixers.
It’s important to note, there were all-school mixers and then there were parties for just us. The “ABC” parties, as they came to be known, were an opportunity to see students of color from other independent schools. We got to play our music and do our street dances. More importantly, we were given an opportunity to hang out with other students of color who were more than likely experiencing the same frustration and alienation we were experiencing at Middlesex. Those parties oftentimes helped us get through the month.
I survived the boarding school experience for two years, and then made some bad personal choices for which I was (in my opinion) harshly disciplined. I made a decision to transfer out in the beginning of my senior year. Luckily for me, I found an independent school in New York City willing to take me in. In 1974 the Brooklyn Friends School. allowed me to enroll and finish out my senior year. I graduated from BFS in 1975 with honors. From there it was off to college. In 1980 I fulfilled my dream, earning a B.A. in History and Spanish Literature from the University of Pennsylvania. The youngest of three boys, I was the first person in my family to graduate from college.
After graduating, I pursued a number of employment opportunities before returning to the independent school world in 1993. I have been privileged to work at several independent schools in a variety of roles. I have served as a dorm head, director of diversity affairs, dean of students, and principal; all at the high school level. I have also taught a number of history electives as well as American (U.S.) History.
My independent school experience has served me best in my current role as Director of School Culture at the Bronx Lighthouse Charter School located in the heart of the South Bronx. Bronx Lighthouse is a grades K-7 school which will eventually become a grades K-12. It is a very special place with a highly dedicated faculty and staff. My independent school background has helped guide my attempts to build a respectful community, embrace families, and administer discipline. My scholars are treated with the same reverence and respect expected by those who have the means or good fortune to attend some of this country’s more prestigious schools. For two consecutive years BLCS has received an “A” rating from the NYC Board of Ed. Not bad for a school located in one of the poorest school districts in the nation.
– David Ruiz
A Better Chance
Class of 1975