As a young girl, I would play “school.” My friends would sit in a desk and complete old student workbook pages while I wrote on a small chalkboard. But it wasn’t until I stood in front of my own students that I finally understood why people said, “teaching is the most rewarding profession.”
Working with students who showed immense potential but lacked the necessary resources to get ahead opened my eyes to the many injustices that our students face. So when I learned of our school’s partnership with OneGoal, I saw that the program’s philosophy and curriculum were aligned with my personal and professional goals of focusing attention on building academic readiness and the soft skills necessary to persist in college. I became a OneGoal Program Director, charged with helping my cohort of 26 Fellows realize their post-secondary dreams.
As a Program Director, I had the pleasure of working closely with many students, but one who really sticks out is Shania. I was her Spanish teacher, her volleyball coach, and now her Program Director. In Shania, I saw someone who was academically focused but sometimes impulsive. Here was a student with the potential to be the first member of her family to go to college, but who didn’t have the guidance on how to overcome the obstacles to get there. As our group worked together, I witnessed Shania grow into a determined, confident, and professional young leader. She became the backbone of our cohort, completing work at an exemplary level, acting out of integrity, and assisting her peers in completing tasks essential to college enrollment. One thing became increasingly clear to me; nothing was going to stop Shania from getting accepted into college.
I remember the days that Shania received acceptance letters. Shania would enter class with a huge smile and ask if she could take her acceptance letters to our college counselor, who then hung all senior acceptance letters on a large wall in our school’s main hallway. Shania contributed 11 acceptance letters to that wall. This is due to her diligence in using every minute of class time wisely and working tirelessly to complete 24 college applications. After narrowing it down to schools that offered her desired nursing major, we anxiously awaited financial aid award letters. This is the final piece of information we needed to decide which college would be a best-fit for Shania. She plans to attend Northern Illinois University in the fall.
Shania strikes me with her bravery, now getting ready to leave behind the comforts of home in Chicago and head to NIU for college. But any sense of nervousness about the move is clouded by the excitement and readiness she feels. She tells me that she can’t wait to meet new people, join intramural sports, and explore the new environment and independence. But while she’s leaving home, she always has her family top of mind. Shania is aware that in going to college, she’s not only impacting her own future but the future of her younger sisters. She shared with me, “Being a first generation college student means I can be a role model for my little sisters and set the standard for what I hope they will also achieve. My parents will be so proud.”
They should be proud. As Shania and her classmates in our OneGoal cohort enter their first year of college this fall, I look forward to continuing to support them academically and socially. I want them to experience all the emotions that come with college, like the stress of finals, pulling all-nighters, long hours in the library with friends, and the joy of acing a test or delivering a final report they feel pride in.
Being a Program Director has become, hands down, the best part of my job. The relationships that I develop with individual students and their families, and the bonds we form as a cohort, are unparalleled. I learn just as much from them about resilience and ambition as they learn from me about professionalism and leadership. Every minute of this work feels meaningful and I can see the impact it is having on individual students—like Shania—classrooms of students, entire schools, even cities and ultimately, the nation as a whole.
As Shania and all of the Fellows in our cohort take their first steps into a college classroom, I know my role is far from over. I want them to know they will succeed in whichever avenues they choose in college and my role is to provide the support to add to their successes.
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