Equal Opportunity Schools’ mission was born in a high school hallway that divided two friends. A young Reid Saaris, now the Executive Director at Equal Opportunity Schools, was fast-tracked into advanced courses that would prepare him for college. His equally bright best friend, who came from a lower-income background, was relegated to less challenging courses.
Saaris went on to college at Duke and Harvard. His friend spent the next decade-and-a-half working to make up for the lost opportunity of advanced-level courses.
The profound impact of that simple scheduling decision haunted Saaris as he went on to become a high school teacher in South Carolina.
In Saaris’ second year of teaching, he encountered a student who was slated for lower-level courses (as were most of the African-American students in this school) but was clearly capable of much more. Saaris literally walked the student down to the school office to switch him to advanced-level courses. That low-tech, low-cost intervention changed the student’s life. He said, “I’ve accomplished things that I never thought I could. The truth is that not many people get the chance to move up – the Equal Opportunity Schools approach has given me the chance of a lifetime.”
Inspired by this student, the next year, as a part of Saaris’s administrative initiative to “find all the missing students”, the school’s AP and IB program doubled in size, and the number of African-American students in advanced classes tripled. And the success rate for all students on the rigorous, college-aligned AP and IB exams went up by 20%.
Such experiences led Saaris to conduct in-depth research with the College Board, the International Baccalaureate Organization, the U.S. Department of Education, and the Education Trust, revealing that while African-American, Latino, and low-income students are about as likely as their white or upper-income peers to attend schools that offer Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses, at least 640,000 of those who could handle the rigor miss out on such courses every year.
Moved by his high school experience and motivated by his research findings and by hundreds of low-income and minority students who were rising to the AP/IB challenge in pilot work in San Jose, Saaris founded Equal Opportunity Schools.
Now, Equal Opportunity Schools partners with school, district, county, and state leaders around the country, identifying thousands of “missing students” and developing systems to ensure these capable students are enrolling and succeeding in the high school classes that will best prepare them to achieve their college goals.