Students Talk; We Listen
Students Talk; We ListenAnne Sussman, Director, K-12 Communications
As the state of education continues to be a hot topic in the national zeitgeist, one voice is often lost among the din of policymakers and pundits: the students’. So it was a rare treat to hear from four high-achieving young people as they shared their experiences with Forum attendees. In a panel discussion with Vice President of Membership Barbara Cronan, the students talked about the support they’ve received in their quest for learning, as well as the obstacles they’ve had to overcome along the way.
Not surprisingly, the encouragement of family was crucial to the success of these students. “My family supports me in everything I do,” said Natural Baptiste, a student at the Brooklyn School for Math and Research in New York and member of the New York City Urban Ambassadors. “They’re 100 percent sure I’m gonna get the job done.”
Lucy Tiblier, a first-year student at Wellesley College and chair of the College Board’s Advisory Panel on Student Opportunity, echoed this sentiment: “I feel supported by my family. My parents have really dedicated their professional lives to let me go to the college of my choice.”
Family members aren’t the only ones who make a difference. “My AP Coordinator, Mr. Hidalgo…was so passionate and made class so engaging,” said Maria Velasco, a senior at Arroyo High School in San Bernardino, Calif. — one of this year’s Gaston Caperton Opportunity Award winners. “He taught me the point of school is to learn,” rather than to get high GPAs.
But learning can sometimes take a backseat to major life stressors. “Cancer was a huge obstacle,” said Jacob Lockhart, a senior at Idaho’s Coeur d’Alene High School — another of this year’s Opportunity Award winners. But with the support of his family, his community, and his doctor, Jacob was motivated to take (and excel in) AP Chemistry. “I love AP so much,” said Jacob, “I’m taking four more this year.”
Natural’s obstacle was homelessness. “I was evicted with my mother and twin brother,” he said. “At 10, you think everything is easy. But … it’s not.” Natural said the experience motivated him to succeed: “Now that I overcame it, I feel like I can conquer anything.”
To keep students engaged, Jacob advised educators to tailor their instruction to students’ aspirations and goals. “Make them feel like you’re taking the time to teach them something specific for themselves,” he said. “[Students] don’t want to be involved in something that doesn’t have anything to do with them.”
Near the end of the discussion, the students asked the audience to remember that students are more than grades. “Numbers don’t tell the whole story,” Natural said. “You have to look at the student holistically.” This is something that students need to keep in mind, as well. “Remind students that their purpose is to learn and soak up as much as possible,” said Lucy. “That shouldn’t get lost in the pursuit of grades.”