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Student Profile: Gaining Academic Courage

Teaching Channel Deeper Learning Series

Students learn by doing at EL Education's network of more than 160 schools. Math, science, and other subjects are taught through "expeditions" that connect them to their communities and teach them the value of service. Students are encouraged to have "academic courage," and they work alone and in groups to conduct original research, analyze data, and present their findings. The work goes in stages as students solicit feedback and make revisions along the way. Each step in the process reinforces a culture of continuous improvement and refinement.


- I was really bad when I came here. I had disciplinary issues like every day. I would fight with my teachers, other students, but then I left and I realized that what Renaissance has here is really good for me.

- They have to have the courage to be different, to work hard, to not be embarrassed to bring their books home and study and do homework, to speak up in class, to use academic language and not just the language of their neighborhoods and realize it’s a different thing to push yourself to be a scholar.

- I was always more interested in pleasing my friends and hanging out with my friends and talking and not focusing on my schoolwork, but over the summer before 11th grade, I had a reflection. I was like, well, they’re not going to college with me, they’re not going to be the ones who are going to see me through the rest of my life. Coming into 11th grade I was like, “I have to change, I have to start giving back.” And so, I decided to not be friends with the people I was friends with anymore and that was really hard. I made the choice to distance myself from those people. I felt lonely at first, maybe for like a week, but then I was like, “You know, I’m doing a lot. “I’m doing way better.” My grades got better. I became more involved in things. I’ve realized that this choosing to not be friends with someone doesn’t make you a bad person, that you’re bettering yourself and it’s not selfish and it’s not wrong. It’s okay to say, “I can’t be your friend anymore.”

- So we’re looking at a multiplier of...

- Two.

- Two, right? And if we think to our mental sort of note of what should happen.

- My teachers in 10th grade, they were like, “Marlina, you’re really smart. “Try harder.” And so they also suggested me for honors classes and I was like, “Okay, I’ll take that challenge. “I’ll try and I’ll try to do it and do my best.” So I had questions on the homework because I thought we were supposed to do the transformation part.

- Oh, okay.

- And so I started with-- Math was something I struggled with my entire life. Like, I remember in first grade, like, they were teaching us how to count and I was like, why does one plus one have to be two? Why can’t it be bleh? Like, why can’t that be a number?

- And then, where does it cross the y axis?

- At zero.

- Mm-hmm. According to--

- Oooh, okay, yeah okay. Got it.

- So-- So you’ve kept me on track to help me remember. You know, when things are kind of getting a little bit--

- Fast.

- Too fast or just too complex, that you really are a grounding force for not just you, but for many of the students that are in the class as well.

- I came to Miss Ducharme to ask about college prep math and she was like, “Of course.” I was scared that she’d say no because it’s too complicated, that she’d have to like do different lessons plans or remember to give me this and give me that, but she was like, “Of course.” She’s like, “We’ll just struggle together “and figure it out.”

- So you should be able to do some pretty accurate sketches.

- She is a gifted writer, I think a gifted scholar, but it took a lot of bravery, I think, for her to decide she’s gonna make a different pathway for herself than the world that she came from.

- I wrote a story called Hot Comb Heirlooms and it’s basically a story about what black women and their hair and their attachment to their hair and, specifically, what does my hair mean to me? It was only being submitted to be graded. It was only going to be like my two English teachers reading it, but when he wanted to publish it, that was a bit scarier. People at my school had heard about it, that I had read it for my class and they were like, “Oh, I want to read it!” and I’m like, “Oh, you don’t need to, it’s not for public eyes.” It was kind of scary, knowing that people were gonna be seeing my writing.

- Public explanations of their growth as scholars and as human beings is built into the day here. They are working together to support not only their own education, but the education of everyone around them.

- I have like a little fan group now for the 8th graders who read Hot Comb Heirlooms and, like, they come up to me in the hallway and they’re like, “Oh my god, that was so cool! “I know what you’re saying, like, I get it!” Like, “I have the same problem.” I’m like, “These kids are watching me” and teachers were like, “Oh, I see a difference in you. “Would you like to help me with this and with that?” and it became a name that people turned to when they wanted something done. People know who I am and they appreciate what I do for them and that makes me feel happy.

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