Torey Adams is a PEP student who is pursuing his Bachelor of Science in Integrated Studies (BSIS) degree with a concentration in Social Sciences through the School of Continuing & Professional Studies (CAPS) at Washington University in St. Louis. Torey graduated with Associate in Arts degree from Washington University in May 2019. He is the first current PEP student to complete the BSIS capstone project, which takes an interdisciplinary approach to a research question or topic of the student’s choosing by synthesizing knowledge and methodologies gained from multiple fields of study. Torey’s capstone project, titled “Socialization in the American School System,” addresses the causes and experience of disparities in St. Louis-area schools and makes recommendations based on these findings. Over the course of a 30-page analysis, his focus extends to differences within and across public versus private schools, as well as between school environments in St. Louis City versus St. Louis County.
The BSIS degree is a relatively new degree offered through CAPS that is intentionally designed for learners who want to build on their existing education and tailor their degree to match their personal and professional educational goals. According to Pat Matthews, Associate Dean for Academics at CAPS, “the BSIS is an interdisciplinary degree that approaches subjects across disciplines, emphasizing the use of multiple lenses and ways of thinking to solve issues creatively. The capstone is an opportunity for students pick a problem or topic about which they are passionate and apply insights and tools from diverse disciplines to address the issue. Students may dig deeper into a topic they have studied in class or choose a new issue. While students have a foundation in research and analysis from earlier coursework, they are encouraged to follow their own interests, skills, and desired areas of growth in both how they approach the work and present it.”
David Cunningham, who served as Torey’s faculty mentor for his capstone project, says Torey’s “final product had many strengths, but perhaps none as pronounced as his ability to blend various metrics associated with resources and academic performance of school districts in the region with his own experience within a variety of St. Louis-area schools. His direct perspective was especially useful in demonstrating the dire impacts of underesourced public schools, but also clarifying that this is only part of the story. Alongside the resource inequities across public and private schools, and between more and less affluent districts, his analysis demonstrates how inequality also emerges within the walls of any particular school, as students are perceived and treated differently based on their race, gender, and other characteristics. In that respect, Torey offers a powerful account of how school policies are deployed and experienced differently by students of color – Black males in particular – demonstrating how equitable education goes well beyond equalizing the resources available across school districts. At a time in which more and more people and communities possess heightened awareness of the enormous costs and injustices associated with systemic racism, Torey’s work offers a clear and powerful window into how everyday practices reproduce racial inequities. He demonstrates clearly the huge costs of those practices as they are experienced by those devalued by the very institutions charged with nurturing the development of all students.”
Here Torey talks more about his project.
What was your motivation for your capstone project?
My motivation for the capstone project was to discover if a private school education was better than a public school education, and if so, how much different the two are. As the paper developed, I noticed that the data revealed that the issue is bigger than public schools versus private schools; the real difference is in wealth, and that creates the divisions we see.
What was your research question for your capstone project? What made you pick this research question to be your focus?
My research question for this project was: Is a private school education better than a public school education? The idea that made me pick this topic was that ever since I have been a Washington University student, I have experienced a type of education that I always envisioned school to be: an education where professors care and the student body is like family. I considered that most Washington University students/professors went to private schools, which intrigued me and made me want to find out more about private schools.
What were your major findings for your capstone project?
My capstone project revealed that in the St. Louis area, the school districts are drastically unequal, and Black students – no matter what district they are enrolled in – are suspended more than their peers. Another disturbing factor is schools that have a majority Black student body have lower ACT scores; this also holds true in districts where there are multiple high schools in the district: the school with the most Black students has the lowest ACT scores. There are several private schools that had 100% of their students go on to post-secondary education and have averages on their ACT scores of 26 and 25 (out of possible 31) or higher. The only public schools that compare to private school scores are Ladue and Clayton; these schools are public but affluent. The problem is that the St. Louis problem was not built overnight; it is a systemic structure that has been in place for decades which suspends Black children no matter where in the region they attend school. The way the structure is designed keeps the wealth in the wealthy areas of the region, and the poor remain poor. Education is supposed to be a leverage to erase poverty in America, but if the education system is unfair, then all are not receiving an equal opportunity.
Based on your findings, what are your recommendations for American school systems?
I recommend that all school districts revise curriculums to match the curriculums of the best schools across the country. Also, there could be specialty schools created that lead students to certain careers. The one thing that needs to be stopped is the suspending of certain students. There are many things that can be done to achieve a federal overhaul of the state’s school systems, such as the closing of the poor schools and consolidating students into better districts. For example, break up the St. Louis City school district and send the kids that attend those schools to nearby Clayton, and close Roosevelt high school and send those children to the Rockwood school district. Those are just examples.
What do you hope people who read your capstone project take away from it?
I hope that people who read my capstone project take away from it the idea that they want to help change American schools because something needs to be done. We can tear down all the statues, erase the memories of injustice, but until we change the unjust institutions, we have a long way to go. As of now, schools and prisons are similar. In fact, some schools are pipelines to prisons.
How did your personal experience with education influence your capstone project?
My personal experience with education heavily influenced my project; as I mentioned earlier, there is nothing comparable to being a WashU student. At the same time, it is my success at one of the best schools in the country that made me question my failures as a student in the public school system.
How did working on this capstone project inform and/or solidify your interests, career goals, or motivation to pursue higher education?
My capstone project has made me want to go to graduate school. I want to come up with a committee that overhauls St. Louis schools and sets the model for the rest of the country. Nothing will be better than to earn the title “Dr.” for every time a school wrote me off by suspending me more than necessary.
Read Torey’s full research paper “Socialization in the American School System”