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What it Takes to Learn Your Way: Getting To Know You

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

I grew up in a small town; the kind that New Yorkers think is slightly mythical. The kind of town where everyone shows up for basketball games, school concerts, and graduation.  Academic achievements are shared in the local newspaper, and students are celebrated for the ways that they excel both in and outside the classroom. 

Small communities allow for the opportunity to know the individual, not just the student.  When your teachers know you, they can help you better understand material that may otherwise present challenges. When your teachers know your strengths, they can help you achieve greatness.

How, then, can you get the benefits of a small-town education in urban schools?  Like “Dream School,” we here at Beekman have the privilege of teaching small classes (even more so, as our classes average 7 students). We learn from our students, their parents, and our fellow faculty members where each student excels and where they need additional support.  We get to know the individual.

One great example that comes to mind is a recent student who took Advanced Algebra II/Trigonometry through our Tutoring School program. Previously, she had attended one of NYC’s top public high schools, where the environment is rigorous but classes are still large and impersonal. She wasn’t happy, and fortunately found Beekman. Working one-on-one with her math teacher, she discovered that, while she had always excelled at math, she had been learning some things “wrong,” which probably wouldn’t have been discovered in a classroom with 25 students. 

At first, this may seem like a small thing, but how will this impact the student long-term? Is Algebra the only discipline where she missed opportunities to grow in the past? Are there other areas that she hasn’t fully explored?

We all hear how we should follow our calling in life. But how do you find your way? It can all start with a teacher simply making you aware: “Hey, you’re really good at this! You should spend more time exploring it and see where it takes you.” That is why we seek to get to know our students and help them know themselves.

We see the long-term effects of this approach in our alumni—every year, we hear from past students who personally thank their former teachers for taking the time to support and guide them.  It changed their lives; and for a teacher, it doesn’t get any better than that!

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