Success StoriesTeachable Moments
"Through Rainier Scholars I learned I was capable of more than I ever
imagined, that excellence was no longer an option, it was the norm",
shared Isolina Campbell-Cronin, a 2014 Magna Cum Laude graduate of
Spelman College. Isolina passionately described how the academic rigor
and high expectations of the program gave her a new sense of pride about
her own education, motivating her to become a teacher. Her ultimate goal is to provide college preparatory educational oppotunities to children often not given this chance.
Isolina's speech given at the 2014 Annual Luncheon
I stand before you in this moment counting down the days before my college graduation. On May 18th I will graduate Magna cum laude from Spelman College. I cannot adequately describe the incredible feeling of accomplishment and the overwhelming gratitude I have for all of the people in my life who cared enough to make sure I received a college education.
As an educator herself, my mother was the first to expose me to the joy that learning can bring. Then, at a very young age Rainier Scholars saw the potential in what I could become before I even knew it myself. In turn, my mom saw the potential in Rainier Scholars to help her realize the dreams she too had for me. By being part of this community I have been held to high expectations and the best has been demanded of me. I am surrounded by people who believe in me, and because of that belief I never felt it was an option to quit.
I remember receiving my acceptance letter to Rainier Scholars. It felt like a victory. It was a vote of confidence. It guaranteed I would be challenged in the classroom. And just weeks after I had completed 5th grade, I entered a program that would lay the foundation for my future. Now I'm not going to lie and tell you it was easy. Like every scholar before me this experience was a new level of hard. I distinctly remember my very first class, History with Ms. Johnson. Not only was I surprised to get homework the first day but I was astonished at the fact we were assigned a chapter to read by a historian named Howard Zinn, an author of college level works that would open my mind to new historical perspectives.
Over the next year I learned the true meaning of rigor and responsibility. Despite the tears, the overwhelming amounts of homework and the challenge of balancing regular school with Rainier Scholars, I never felt alone, surrounded by cohort mates persevering on the same journey. I learned I was capable of more than I ever imagined. 14-months of academic rigor and high expectations later, a new sense of pride was revealed in my own education. I had developed my own definitions of perseverance and success. I learned that struggle was an important part of the process. Most importantly, excellence was no longer an option; it became the norm.
As longtime believers in the premise of public education, my mom and I made the decision for me to attend one of Seattle's most recognized public high schools. I found myself in AP classes at Garfield where I was one of three African American students and despite drawing on the strength of my Rainier Scholars experience, I suddenly felt like I did not belong. Many fellow students were familiar with the framework and expectations of Advanced Placement courses but I was intimidated and nervous and too prideful to ask for help and my struggle was soon reflected in my grades. I was jeopardizing my college admissions options and scholarship qualifications by struggling in silence. Facing academic probation during my junior year, the message from Rainier Scholars was clear. You have the ability to do this. Take the steps required to change the situation. Be accountable. We are here to support you. This was a valuable experience that helped bring clarity to one of my future goals. I want to ensure other students like me never feel that they don't belong in a high-achieving classroom. I want to make certain that they never feel like they have to choose between being black and smart.
Applying to colleges and making the decision to attend Spelman established my pathway to exploring education and the field of teaching. Spelman's mission is to develop women of color to be leaders and global change agents. With excellence as the expectation of all its students, it seemed quite similar to Rainier Scholars. When my mother and I went to visit Spelman, I knew I was right where I was supposed to be.
During my sophomore year I began observing schools for my field experience. Entering Georgia's schools and classrooms further expanded my awareness of America's educational system. My student teaching experiences exposed me to a reality so shocking that it further confirmed my life purpose. On my first day of working with a group of high school students preparing for the upcoming graduation test, I realized they had been passed along without foundational skills necessary to scaffold knowledge in every subject. It was heartbreaking to try to change their outcomes in a few short sessions, knowing they would eventually become part of the 20% of African Americans in our nation without a high school degree and never have an opportunity to set foot on a college campus. My growing understanding of the root causes of cycles of poverty shined the light even brighter on the need for high quality education in our country. Seeing these aspects of education up close might cause some people to seek other jobs, but it only furthered my love of teaching and goals for education reform.
The summer after my junior year in college I was one of 40 candidates selected to serve as a Summer Teaching Fellow with Uncommon Schools, a NY based charter school management organization. What I saw in my first hour at North Star Academy in Newark NJ re-enforced my belief that it is possible for students to reach their full potential. As I witnessed children answering challenging math questions, my mind wandered back to my early days of middle school.What I saw and learned at Uncommon Schools reminded me of the rigor, high expectations, classroom management strategies, engaged teaching staff and administrators and a level of excellence that I was surrounded with at Rainier Scholars. I felt at home with every aspect of this high achieving student culture. It made me wonder - If the data shows this type of model works, why aren't we seeing it used more often for all students? Having been exposed to a high quality education and knowing personally the long-term benefits, I believe it is my hearty responsibility to bring similar opportunities to more students across the nation so that they too can experience the confidence, stability, intelligence, gratitude and sense of purpose that I feel as I approach college graduation.
I am excited to begin my educational career in a full-time teaching position with Uncommon Schools at North Star Elementary in a 2nd grade classroom this next school year.I eventually want my work to go beyond one classroom in one school in one district and in one state. Public education should represent the same quality and caliber of education of any private school in this country. My goals and objectives include gaining educational and professional experiences that will prepare me to one day hold a national position of educational leadership.
It will be my life mission to see the potential in all children and believe in them long before many of them believe in themselves. I hope to bring that potential out of them, enabling them to surpass the roles which society has prescribed for them, just as was done for me and so many other students of color in this community by Rainier Scholars!