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What it Takes to Learn Your Way: Assessing How Far We’ve Come

Authored By: 
Maren Holmen, Academic Liaison

This post is part of a series inspired by Dream School: NYC, a SundanceTV docu-series that follows 15 New York City teenagers who left high school and are now trying to get back on track to graduate. The Beekman School partnered with the show to help customize the learning experience for the students. Follow this blog to learn more and participate in the social media conversations using the hashtag #LearnYourWay

This week marks the final episode of “Dream School: NYC.“ Even though The Beekman School was part of the students’ journey from afar, it did feel close to us. 

It is true that they were not Beekman students and we were not part of the selection process for either the students or the faculty. We were only invited to offer our expertise, our model, and the credit the students needed as an incentive to give the project a winning change. But we rooted for every single one of these kids and we did our best to translate our expertise into positive impact. The kind of impact we see in our classrooms at Beekman every day.

Although Beekman wasn’t part of their daily classroom experience, some of our faculty (including me) had a chance to teach them in intensive review sessions for the Regents exams. I recall that, in my math prep sessions, I was throwing a lot of material at them: we covered at least 10 topics in our first 90-minute session, and Raeshawn, Fredo, and Avilona were right there with me. I was impressed by and proud of their willingness to stick with it.

Another occurrence that stuck with me was a discussion I had with one of the Dream School students before another prep session here at Beekman.  She talked about why she’d given up before Dream School: “My teacher told me that she didn’t care about me. Why would I want to work hard for someone who doesn’t care about me?”

What I didn’t say to her at the time was that her teacher probably hadn’t meant it that way, and perhaps that wasn’t even what her teacher had said. I would hazard a guess that this teacher probably had said that referring to her work, not to her. The more I’ve worked with teens, the more I realize that, for them, perception is reality. To this student, her teacher’s off-hand remark became the most personal of insults: I don’t care about you as a person. 

Showing all students that they are worthy of attention and that you believe in them is key. In the classroom, winning hearts is just as important as winning minds and this is something that surfaced time and again during the Dream School project.

As we prepare to watch the season finale tonight—and root for the student’s graduation—it is important to remember that this is not their end of the journey. It is, however, an experience that strengthened their foundation and we look forward to seeing how they will build on what they’ve gained from this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

To learn more about why and how we got involved in the "Dream School: NYC” project, check out our earlier post: Learn Your Way: What it Takes to Build a Dream School

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