GARY | Gary native and veteran educator Bernard C. Watson contends he has no magic wand to deal with the issues going on in education today.
Watson said the same challenges that educators in Gary face are visible in Philadelphia, Boston and other parts of the country.
But Watson, a graduate of Roosevelt High School and former teacher, counselor and assistant principal at the school, said it's critical to help young people make the connection between the time invested in something and what you get out of it.
"You don't have to achieve everything you try, but it's good to try it," he said.
Watson, who grew up in walking distance from the Bernard C. Watson Academy for Boys in Gary, said his parents encouraged all of their children to learn and become well-educated. He said he began working in the steel mill at 16 so he could pay for his college education at what was then called Gary College, which is now Indiana University Northwest.
"The future of this country rests on education," Watson said, adding the United States used to be the leader in education.
"We no longer invest in education like we should," he said. "Our young people have to be better prepared. The times are different now. Students have to be prepared not just for the jobs today but for the jobs of the future."
Watson paid homage to the public education plan established by William Wirt, a Gary school superintendent, many years ago and the rich history of Roosevelt High School.
"If you got behind, there was Saturday school," Watson said. "There was also summer school. When I left Roosevelt, there was no doubt in my mind that I could go to any school in the country. We knew we had to be twice as good as a white person. We were prepared."
Watson said some of the things that Gary educators can do to help students improve is to believe that children have the talent and ability to succeed, then convince them. He said parents care about how their students are performing and want to be partners in their children's success.
"Stop blaming everyone else for the problems," Watson said. "Look in the mirror, then work together to make it better."
Watson fielded questions from the public and commended Gary resident John Key and new Watson Academy Principal Leonard Brown.
Key has developed a program called G.R.O.W.T.H., or Gary Residents Organized & Working Together Harmoniously, designed to promote positive economic, educational, cultural, social and spiritual growth and improve the quality of life in Gary.
Brown said he is working to change the lives and outcomes for young men in poverty by giving them love, consideration and support.
"Students need to understand the psychology of what school is about," Brown said.