Professional Development Opinion

Make a Difference One Child at a Time

By Starr Sackstein — October 09, 2016 2 min read
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You may hear stories about “super” seniors, those who take longer to graduate than the allotted four years of high school, and think that it’s a challenge to work this group of kids, but there is something really special about it too.

Imagine having the opportunity to help each child in his/her unique situation get the credit he/she needs to graduate and knowing that you had a direct impact on that child.

My first class is probably my favorite period of the day.

Although only a small percentage of my students show up, the ones who do really want to learn and I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know each of them really closely:

  • What they want to be when they graduate
  • What’s important to them
  • The challenges and struggles they face in the day to day that hasn’t always made the school experience easy for them.

By the time, a senior passes their cohort’s graduation date, there are many reasons why some city kids wouldn’t go back to finish.

The system has sometimes beaten them down or targeted them in ways that isn’t adventageous to their growth. So it’s important to do something differently when they decide they are ready to do the work to graduate. Clearly the way it went down the first time just didn’t work so it would seem foolish to repeat that again.

Creating a successful environment for each child can be done once we understand what they are bringing to the table. As I first met my students, I got to know their situations. We reviewed their transcripts and made sure they were in the classes they needed so that they wouldn’t have more issues later. If they were retaking a state test, even if they haven’t taken the class for while, we started putting together a plan to help them pass this time.

Since it is a small group, I’m able to have the kids doing exactly what they need. I don’t have to make them read literature, but instead, we can practice important annotation skills and close reading with the content for the exams they need to learn. One day I even studied with one of the students for a chemistry test and it was great to relearn a topic I haven’t thought about in years.

It was spectacular, however, seeing how happy the student was that I cared enough to stop my plan and work specifically on what she needed that day.

In addition to supporting each child in their other spaces, I’m trying to help develop life skills and prepare them for the specific future they want. For example, we’ve made resumes that they can use on job searches and they are working on personal statements for when they are ready to apply for the programs they want to get into next.

Feeling personally responsible for each child, when the regulars are absent, I feel extra concerned. It’s not like them to miss a day or two even. Keeping that personal connection is important because sometimes I feel like it is the only reason they keep coming.

What an honor it is to work with this population. It can’t be easy to be called a failure by the system and still continue to show up and try to make it work to find success in the future.

How can we encourage every child, regardless of past experiences in school to realize success is always possible? Please share

The opinions expressed in Work in Progress are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.