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My Second-Graders Got Me Here

By Meital Caplan
June 27, 2018

In celebration of OneGoal’s 10-year anniversary, we sought to collect reflections from some of the numerous individuals that helped build the organization. Working in the education sector for more than a decade, Brooke Flowers took on the challenge of founding the OneGoal – Metro Atlanta region in 2016. Learn how a group of second-graders brought her to this opportunity.

I knew that I wanted to be a part of OneGoal the minute I learned of its mission. The reason was simple. Having started my career in a second-grade classroom, I was now witnessing my former students prepare for college and it reminded me of a specific lesson I’d assigned them.

Seeing the brilliance in my students, I had asked them to draft college application essays and had preached to them that if they continued to work hard they could get into and successfully graduate from any college they could want. Only by reflecting on this past assignment did I realize that I had suppressed, and therefore failed to communicate, how difficult it had been for me to navigate the college experience.

By all accounts, I was the student that was supposed to seize the college experience. After all, I was ranked third in my high school class; served as class president; had completed college classes in high school and had a 4.2 GPA. However, it was difficult for me because, as a young woman from a small suburban town in northwest Georgia, I felt as though I didn’t belong at Duke University. I felt like an impostor.

As I saw my second-graders grow into high school seniors, I thought, “if that was my experience, what must be the experience of my students who were first-generation college students or students who hadn’t been preparing for a future involving college? Working with OneGoal and leading our work in Metro Atlanta felt like the opportunity to tell my students, and students across the community, the whole truth about what it takes to prepare for and successfully complete college.

So when it was shared that OneGoal was coming to Atlanta, I threw my hat in the ring to become Metro Atlanta’s founding Executive Director and bring this necessary service to the community that raised me and propelled my career and success. I wanted this position, to specifically be a part of the OneGoal solution, so that I could help rewrite the narrative with and for our students.

My years in education, as a teacher and as a leader in Teach for America’s Metro Atlanta team, showed me how we subtly or directly pushed kids to look at college as the step after high school graduation without coming close to preparing them for the trials and obstacles that would stand in the way of earning a college degree. I saw how those roadblocks would compound on themselves and how the accompanying feelings of frustration, hopelessness, guilt and more would devastate kids from reaching a college diploma. To that, I said no more.

I’ve now served a Metro Atlanta’s Executive Director for two years and have seen the early impact of our program in schools. As the region’s leader, I feel as though I am becoming the woman I always aspired to be, and I’m becoming that woman and leader and human a lot faster. My leadership development has been expedited, my acumen has been sharpened tremendously by being around not just smart and skilled people, but by being around conscious people who really and truly tackle the root causes of systemic injustice head on. OneGoal is not shying away from the complexity of addressing the college degree divide.

We’re taking on big bets, from the way that we’re looking at new delivery models, charting our path to 60 percent Fellow college completion rate, growing to scale and adopting Culturally Responsive Pedagogy. But we’re not cowering and shying away, we’re jumping head first into it but in a strategic and thoughtful way. And so is the Metro Atlanta community. I’ve been overwhelmed by the sincere appetite this community has for supporting our young people. While meeting with local leaders, education experts and future partners in this work, the shared commitment to fighting for the meaningful progress our kids deserve remains abundantly clear.

With this kind of momentum, drive and partnership, what is there to say other than I’m looking forward to a lot more of this in the next 10 years.