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Notable Student Success Stories: Vanilla Macias-Rodriguez

Authored By: 
Vanilla Macias-Rodriguez, Science Teacher

I grew up believing mediocrity was unacceptable.  In the Macias household, the only acceptable report card grade to bring home was an A.  B’s were considered failing grades and only God knew what would happen to you if you ever brought home a C.  Neither I nor my siblings cared to test out that scenario.  We worked hard to live up to and exceed the expectations our parents placed on our shoulders.  Life has taught me that not everyone had that same experience.  In fact, I think my tough-love upbringing is becoming quite the rarity in today’s world and average is unfortunately becoming the accepted norm in our touchy-feely society. 

How different would life be without the overachievers of the world?  What if Edison had decided that candlelight was good enough or the Wright brothers felt that train service could get you anywhere you needed to go in a decent amount of time?  Would using a flip phone or a rotary land line be acceptable to anyone in 2016?  What if Yo-Yo Ma was thrilled with learning how to play “3 Blind Mice” on the violin or the Fab Five USA Women’s gymnastics team decided somersaults were all they needed to know and stopped practicing and training?   I know I’d be miserable in a world where we decided standard-definition TV was tolerable.  Admit it.  You would not accept average service at a restaurant with a 3-star Michelin rating, sub-par performance from an employee, or wi-fi that only works sometimes.  Why do we expect less from our children, whose success and drive will determine just how ordinary or extraordinary our future will look?

My students come from all walks of life: two parents, single-parent, adopted, supportive, unsupportive, present parents, nannies, etc., yet I treat them all the same.  I care about them and support them, I give them the tools and information they need to be successful and I expect the very best from them.   In seventeen years of teaching, I’ve seen many success stories.  Some of my former students are doctors, lawyers, marketing executives, professional chefs, engineers, and some of the best parents to some amazing kids.  While I am “spread-my-peacock-feathers proud” of the work ethic and dedication it took for these students to reach their goals, my favorite success stories are of those students who came to me as average Joe’s, happily floating along in the middle, barely getting by and cheering when they earned a D- because they calculated just how many questions they needed to answer correctly on the final exam to pass for the year.  Seeing these students reach their true potential is a beautiful sight to me.  It’s amazing what a little attention and confidence can do for students at this age.

A “Good job!” here or there, a pat on the back for increased effort, one great test or quiz grade leads to another, and if it doesn’t, there is a new frustration they haven’t felt before and never want to feel again, so they work harder the next time.  As hard as we try, we don’t always get the chance to instill this winning spirit in all of them during their four short years of high school.  It takes some of them getting knocked around by life experiences, wanting to be a better person for that special someone, or having their first child look up to them as a motivator for success.  Social media allows me to keep in touch with these late bloomers and “like” their later successes.   It doesn’t matter to me when it happens or if it happens after several failures, as long as they do realize the value of the untapped potential inside each of them. 

Professional football, basketball, soccer--they all have championship games and VIP awards.  The music industry has the Grammys and the CMA Entertainer of the Year award, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awards Oscars.  You can make honor roll, but you can also be the valedictorian.  The Army encourages enlistees to “Be all that you can be.”  Megyn Kelly’s new book on the New York Times best seller list encourages us to Settle for More. Even Adam Sandler’s Waterboy was told, “You can do it!”  Get the picture?  There’s always more to strive for.  We’ve always told children that they can become whatever they want to be.  It’s time to let our children know that this is no longer a valid goal and with hard work and drive, they can become the best their field has ever seen.

We are welcoming students to class this spring either via a hybrid in-person/online learning model in NYC (following our Spring Break), or via fully remote, synchronous online classes.  Learn more about our response to COVID-19 >