In celebration of OneGoal’s 10-year anniversary, we sought to collect reflections from some of the numerous individuals that helped build the organization. Zazalleesha Swanson was one of the first Program Directors recruited when OneGoal expanded to Houston and went on to teach three cohorts.
I initially tried to run away from a career in education because I saw firsthand through my family how teaching is a selfless job and how much is asked of our teachers. But I wasn’t feeling fulfilled with the office jobs I pursued, so I became a middle-school teacher and then moved on to high school, where I felt I could make a bigger impact. There I really found my niche. I saw students’ growth, their maturity and how the small things we did really impacted them.
Back in 2012, while working at Eastwood Academy High School in Houston, I learned about OneGoal and decided that I wanted to bring it to my school. We were a Title 1 school, meaning many of our students came from low-income communities. And while we had other programs in place that helped the kids with really high GPAs, I felt like others were being forgotten. Even those high-achievers weren’t getting what they needed. I had babies getting into Ivy League schools and then not being able to adjust to their environment, getting depressed and then dropping out. That’s why we brought OneGoal to our campus. I gave up my prep periods and added teaching OneGoal to my plate.
As a Program Director I’ve seen how I have as much to learn from my students as they do from me, and that’s helped me grow.
For example, there’s one student who is very brilliant and graduated near the top of her class and got into every school she applied to, including out-of-state and even some Ivy Leagues. When it came time to make a decision, she said that she only wanted to go to schools in the Houston area. I was trying to convince her to go out of state. I thought, ‘You could go anywhere in the world! Why would you want stay put?’ I learned that because of family, she needed to stay back. It hurt me to see this potential stay stagnant.
Today, six years after we started working together, we still keep in touch and she’s one of my first babies to graduate college this year. Seeing her success helped me realize that my perspective and my culture influence my decisions and that my students might not always match that. Just because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s wrong and her following her way still made her successful. I’m now writing her job references and recommendations. She’s going to do great, I know it.
With every year that I led the program, a total of three cohorts, I became more and more knowledgeable on how to personalize the content for my students. I knew what schools to look for, what scholarship students should pursue, how to tackle FAFSA and so on. I knew what to say and what to do. I knew how to help my students. If I wasn’t an Assistant Principal at a different school now, I’d still be teaching OneGoal because I see that it works and the people are committed.
I always knew teaching was more than just teaching. I knew that I would always do more than what the job calls for: teaching at a desk. OneGoal has changed my idea because now I’ve gone beyond the classroom. I’ve seen my students growing into adults with families, getting into careers now and that’s only possible through teaching beyond the classroom.
Teachers are mentors, we’re support systems, and at times some of us have to be a second set of parents. If you want to see success, you have to go over and beyond the call of duty.
November 26, 2018
Robert Emmons joined OneGoal as a Fellow in 2009 looking to improve his life and his community. Almost 10 years later, he’s completed the program, experienced the highest of highs and lowest of lows in college and given back by joining OneGoal staff. As he looks toward his next professional step, he now reflects on each step of his journey and how they defined him.