Do you think a boy who set a record for school office referrals can earn his bachelor’s degree at age 20, become a college commencement speaker at age 22 and earn an MBA from a top private US university at age 23?
Do you think a girl who became pregnant in high school can become a Registered Nurse by 21 and successfully support her family by herself?
Do you think a young man can walk away from a gang because he wants to be the first in his family to graduate high school?
Do you think a child who enters ninth grade with a sixth grade reading level can graduate high school with an associate degree?
What about the average student? What about a homeless student? A student working full time to support their family? A student with incarcerated parents? A student with autism?
They can. They have. And I have been lucky to have been a small part on their journey to success.
All of these students graduated high school with an Ohio High School Diploma and an Associate of Arts Degree through the Lorain County Early College High School Program, a partner school with EDWorks. Each student was the first in their family to earn a college degree. Some were the first in their family to earn a high school diploma. While the journey was not easy for any of them, they persevered and triumphed in the face of adversity.
But these students’ journeys did not stop with this success. They continued on to four year institutions, earning bachelor and master’s degrees. As you talk with these students, you will also hear that this road was paved with many challenges. Some were able to stay on track, while others took years to finish. In some cases, students persevered by taking one course at a time.
Despite every obstacle, these students never gave up; they never stopped. Why? Because, they were told they could do it. They were told they could graduate high school with an associate degree. They were told they can earn a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree and even a doctoral degree. And they were told by people who actually believed they could do it and supported them throughout the process.
When I told my high school guidance counselor that I wanted to take college courses through the Post-Secondary Enrollment Options (PSEO) Program during my junior and senior year, she laughed at me. She told me I would fail, even though I met all the requirements to enroll. She put every obstacle she could in my way. Had it not been for my ninth grade English teacher’s words of encouragement and complete belief that I could do it, I would not have pushed and challenged myself. Because of her, I graduated with an associate degree (with honors) before graduating high school. I even continued on to earn a bachelor and master’s degree. Without her, I may have not even gone to college.
One person changed my entire life because she believed in me. In many ways, my life growing up paralleled that of the students I worked with at Lorain County Early College High School – low income, first generation, etc. If I could do it, I knew that others could, too. I, in turn, wanted to be a part of the Early College staff because I wanted to be a person in the student’s corner. I didn’t want what happened to me to happen to anyone else. From 2005 to 2012, I worked at Lorain County Early College High School as a College Transition Adviser.
What if they didn’t have an English teacher like mine? I wanted students to know that the phrase you can be anything you want to be will always be true at any stage of their life, because they can. I began to think more about possibilities than limits. Instead of trying to fit students into boxes, I began asking why not and what if.
I believe that every student can achieve because I believe that want is more powerful than a student’s circumstances. I believe that race, socioeconomic status, gender identity, sexual orientation, family history, etc., does not define who the child is; it is only a part of their story. I believe every student has potential; it just comes in different packages and will need to be unlocked in different ways. I believe that if we raise the bar and give students the individual tools they need, they will not only meet us there, they will raise the bar for themselves. I believe that if we help every student find their interests, ignite their passions, set their minds on fire and open the door, there will truly be no limit to what they can achieve.
I believe all students can learn and achieve, because they can.
Today I am taking the pledge: I believe all children can learn and achieve. I believe we owe it to them to provide supportive learning opportunities and the chance to go to college.
Join me by taking the pledge at http://educationpost.org/becausetheycan/!