But a few months into his freshman year there, the Denver Board of Education decided otherwise. After considering the fact that only six in a hundred freshmen who started out at Montbello went on to college without remediation, the board voted for a major change. The five elementary and middle schools that fed into the high school would be restructured, and Montbello High's campus would be turned over to three new schools: a Denver Center for International Studies magnet middle and high school, an accelerated-curriculum Collegiate Prep Academy; and P.U.S.H. Academy, an expansion of an existing Montbello High program designed to help over-age, under-credited students. In the meantime, the original high school would be phased out — so when Jalon's class graduates in 2014, Montbello High will be no more.

The idea is to funnel new educational resources and innovative programs into an area that definitely needs help. But it was easy for the Montbello students caught in the transition to feel like they'd been written off. "Until Montbello closes, we are not going to get respect, we are always going to be underdogs, always going to be the ones they expect to fail," says Jalon. Although he feels supported by his teachers and school administrators, he's not so sure about the faceless education officials who run the show downtown. In the wake of the restructuring plan, Montbello's teachers had to re-apply for their jobs. Those who were let go were informed via e-mail during the school day, Jalon remembers, and some of them broke down in the middle of class. When Jalon was a member of the school council, he says, the school board promised Montbello new computers and other resources — but when the assets arrived, they went to the kids in the new programs that opened in 2011.

And while Jalon also says that students in the four school programs now housed at Montbello usually get along (all DPS high-school students in the area are allowed to play on Montbello's athletic teams, and the Warriors name will live on after Montbello closes), there are downsides to the shared-campus arrangement. For example, to make room for three other lunch periods, the Montbello students have to eat lunch first: at 10 a.m. "That's what happens when there are three other schools in your school," explains Jalon. "We got the short end of the stick."

"Rap is something that comes to you," says Jalon Martin.
Anthony Camera
"Rap is something that comes to you," says Jalon Martin.
Alison Corbett thinks her students "will go off and really make waves."
Anthony Camera
Alison Corbett thinks her students "will go off and really make waves."

But along with that, he and his classmates got something else: a responsibility to make the final Montbello class something special. "It's important for our class to leave something behind," Jalon says. "We have to leave some sort of legacy."

*********

Man I'm sick and tired of doing the same things

My mind is a weapon

But I'm protected by this 12-gauge

I'm engraved with rage that has put my mind in an ill state

I have so much faith, but constantly I feel pain

Jalon Martin wasn't sure what to think when CU-Boulder professor Adam Bradley first walked into his Advanced Placement English class to teach the students about hip-hop. On the one hand, the kids were excited that "we were going to learn about something we actually liked," he remembers. But on the other hand, he wondered if hip-hop was really something that could be taught in a classroom. After all, he explains, "Rap is something that comes to you. And writing isn't something you learn, it's something you feel."

And even if hip-hop could be taught, was Bradley — with his nice shirt and goatee — really the guy to teach it? "All I knew was he's a brother," remembers Jalon, "and he knew a little somethin' somethin' about rap."

But that's putting it mildly. The 38-year-old Bradley has established himself as a force to be reckoned with in African-American scholarship. As a nineteen-year-old undergrad at Lewis & Clark College, he began working with professor John Callahan, combing through boxes of papers left to Callahan by his close friend, the celebrated novelist Ralph Ellison. They were looking for pieces of Ellison's legendary lost second novel, the follow-up that Ellison had long promised to his iconic 1952 work, Invisible Man. Some people believed Ellison was all talk, that there'd never been another book. But in 2010, after decades of scholarly detective work, Callahan and Bradley released Ellison's second novel, the 1,101-page tome Three Days Before the Shooting...

In the meantime, Bradley had expanded his scholarly focus to include a medium that Ellison had never cared for — but that Bradley saw as a cultural descendent of the literary innovation and audacity that the author had wielded so powerfully in his work. "Hip-hop does that all the time; whether it's a multi-layered beat by the RZA or with passing lyrical allusions in a verse from Kanye, we see that same quality of invention and inheritance," Bradley explains. So he set about deciphering rap with the same academic intensity he'd applied to Ellison's papers. In 2009, Bradley released Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip-hop, which detailed the literary tools he'd developed to structure and analyze rap as poetry, from the apocopated rhymes of Pharoahe Monch to the onomatopoeia of KRS-One. And last year, he co-authored Common's memoir, One Day It'll All Make Sense, with the rap star and actor. "He has a certain quiet wisdom," Common says of Bradley. "With his intelligence and know-how, he can help educate and expose many more people to hip-hop culture."

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3 comments
andrea572
andrea572

Jalon, keep speaking the truth.  I voted NO on the proposal to close Montbello, and we need the truth to come out about what's going on down there.  Hit me up:  andrea@andreamerida.com.

Juan_Leg
Juan_Leg

I LOATHE rap music . The ONLY rap I have ever been able to digest is Aerosmith . Because I'm white, I'm sure 'Iceprick' will be quick to throw the 'race-card' my way but my arrogance towards rap ISN'T limited to black 'artists' . The same adheres to the likes of the Beastie Boys & Rage Against the Machine. ( The latter throws down lyrically ! )

If a teacher were to attempt that shit in a class I was assigned to, one of us wouldn't be present the following day ! 

Those who aren't able to sing,  rap ......

iLikeWhiteGirls
iLikeWhiteGirls

Yo! Alison will get the business! Only if she aint a culture vulture could she see some repeat business! Hit me up cutie!

 
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