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Notable Student Success Stories: Michelle Koza

Authored By: 
Michelle Koza, English Teacher

Andrew* was a demanding student. He was a challenge to have in class, since he appeared to have no filter when he was sharing his thoughts during discussion. He would interrupt me and his peers frequently, and he was notorious for not listening to others’ perspectives. He had many challenges in reading and writing, but he was extremely hard working. In the end, this made all the difference. As teachers we have to engage even our most difficult students, and I came to admire Andrew and his work ethic. I may have disagreed with him on most things, but he worked hard, as did all of the Beekman teachers he encountered during his time here. It paid off. 

Sophomore year, Andrew’s research paper was marked by bias. Andrew did a remarkable job with his research, even if he didn’t properly vet all of his sources. He documented and explained his way through sixteen pages, while at the end filling his conclusion with ad hominem attacks. It was a disappointment for me. He had shown he could do it in the body of his paper, only to let his biases creep in at the very end. I spoke to him and his parents about how important it was to write in an objective way. The following year, Andrew’s research paper was excellent.

In the ensuing years, his attitude shifted and his writing improved. He took Creative Writing with me as a senior, and that was really eye-opening for me. Andrew is an extremely creative person, both in terms of his world-building capacity and his artistic creativity. It was great to have a lower-risk academic venue to be able to see these things about him. He created and developed his own project, which was especially rewarding given that he ultimately wanted to go into creative careers. 

Andrew probably would have been particularly vulnerable in a larger classroom, even a larger school, since he needed so much attention. Andrew’s improvement was the concerted effort of not just a single hard-working student, but a collaboration with a group of educators who know that the best outcomes require investments in time and attention. His last writing assignments in Creative Writing showed extensive revision and took many of his peers’ critiques into consideration. Andrew had struggled with his fiction, but after in-class discussions brought inconsistencies to light, he modified and improved his short stories, at times rewriting whole sections and reframing the morals of his fairytale-like stories. I was shocked. A student who in the past had been unwavering in his opinions, who was famous for not being too reflective, had transformed his creative writing based on what we had discussed in class. 

Andrew went on to be recognized at his graduation for overcoming particularly steep barriers in order to succeed. He (and we) earned it.

*Name changed