Jessica's Journey

This principal knew his students deserved a chance to succeed, so he created a new high school with a culture that puts them first.

It was the beginning of a new school year, and Jessica was excited to begin high school. Ever since kindergarten, she had dreamed of attending the high school in her neighborhood, along with many of her friends. Her face beamed with hope and optimism, as did the rest of the 650 bright new faces. All were filled with excitement for the opportunity to begin 9th grade. These freshmen came from various areas of the city and the world. They represented every income level and cultural background imaginable. They brought with them the beauty and strength of diversity. Most importantly, they brought their hopes and dreams of a bright future with limitless options.

The high school they were entering was rich in tradition, culture, and achievement, offering a wide array of educational programs for students from a variety of learning levels and skills. Students could choose to pursue an International Baccalaureate diploma, study AP courses, or focus on a variety of career pathways offering industry certificates and college credit.

Jessica began her high school career full of hope, prepared with a strong academic record from her elementary school, ready to chase her dreams. She had dreams of working toward becoming a nurse, participating on the track and field team, and accomplishing what no one else in her family had — earning a high school diploma.

I began to dream of a school which truly placed the needs of students before the needs of adults and systems.

Yet, while the school held high levels of academic expectations supported through sound curricula, its very educational model was pedagogically deficient. The school was unable to provide the flexibility and differentiation necessary to meet Jessica’s needs. The organizational structure of the school all but guaranteed she would quickly become a casualty of a system built upon the “factory model” approach that could not, by design, meet the instructional and learning needs of any individual student. It could only hope to reach the middle learning and achievement ground of the majority of students.

What can new teachers do now?

Believe and know that all students can learn.

Dream of what could be.

Take steps to reach that dream.

Follow your passion and make a difference.
—Kenneth O. Grover

In the spring, Jessica came to my office in despair. She had failed many of her classes and had lost hope in her future and confidence in her ability to succeed. She was giving up on herself and her dreams. Jessica could not have known she was beginning a journey of failure in the educational system. She was one of thousands of students across the country entering and walking away from high school during their first year. The dream of earning a diploma was all but forgotten. Their efforts were sincere, their attendance superb, and their preparation sufficient. Their drive and determination had carried them this far, but no further.

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