The Problem of Perception

By Christopher Qualls

I work at Indian Spring Middle School in Waco ISD. Though I share that with pride, I am not oblivious to the feelings it conjures up in others. Our school has been in the news for a myriad of less-than-positive reasons over time. Recent history is no exception.

There are several vicious cycles present in our communities’ schools, and I have not the time nor energy to discuss each of those in depth through this platform. However, the most nefarious problem I believe that our students face is the public perception.

While shopping at a local business this weekend, I learned that an employee there had retired from Midway ISD. Interested to find that unique bond shared between wartime trench-friends, I proudly shared my occupation.

“Oh. I bet that’s tough. Those kids have a rougher, street element”

Wait. What.

What does that mean?

Our students at Indian Spring are exceptional.

There is little difference in the students of Indian Spring, Tennyson, Caesar Chavez, G.W. Carver or even Midway Middle.

The problem is not the people; it is the perception of the people.

Our students at Indian Spring are victims of others’ perception. From the time they were in elementary school, the assumption has been that these students are somehow lesser than. There are those in the community that mistakenly underestimate the limitless potential of youth. They assume that these children will grow into underperforming middle school students, high school students, and eventually some sort of scourge on society.

This perception seeps through to the students, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

By expecting less of the students at Indian Spring, we are setting them up for failure.

These are good children who have been given up on and underestimated.

If we are going to change the educational climate of Waco ISD, we must first start with the perception we have of the students. That means we must start with ourselves. We must realize that the perceptions we have of our students will either enable or limit their future. More than any skills, we teach young people how to believe in themselves—or not. We wield a dangerous power through our perception. We must use it wisely.


Christopher Qualls is a Licensed Master Social Worker serving Waco Independent School District as the Afterschool and Summer Enrichment Programs Manager and actively consulting various non-profits on all aspects of programming. He has near 10 years of experience in agencies all over the world, but has spent the past three years living and serving in Waco.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email ashleyt@actlocallywaco.org for more information.

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