Sunday, June 28, 2009

An Inspiration

I recently read a newspaper article about Khadijah Williams, the homeless girl who got into Harvard. This girl has been to 12 schools in 12 years because she, her mother and little sister have moved from shelter to shelter or street to street for most of her life. She graduated last week, 4th in her class, with honors. Her story is quite a story and it got me thinking about my own students.

My school is primarily a low income, English as a second language school. A lot of our kids have issues that they deal with; issues that are way more pressing than school. Most are economically disadvantaged, many live in apartments with several other families, some have parents who have committed suicide and others have parents in jail. Our transiency rate is very high. In fact, this year I had 5 out of 16 kids who came mid-year or later and for a few of them, we were their 3rd school this year. We are always trying to find ways to motivate and make our kids do well in school so they have more opportunities. But for some of them, nothing we do inspires them. They still come to school everyday; we are a place of consistency and safety to a lot of them, but they don't live up their potential. Khadijah Williams did. She was motivated to make her situation better. She is a role model.

Even though my summer just started, the new school year is right around the corner. Every summer is a time to regroup and rest, but it is also a time to think of ways to make more of an impact than I did the year before. I want all my kids to be like Khadijah Williams. I don't mean I want them all to go to Harvard, but I want them all to think of their education as more than
something we make them do. Each year that is my goal. Each year I always feel like I've failed with some of them.


  1. I mentored two days a week for eight years at a school in Santa Ana where very few children spoke English. It has to be a huge challenge to teach these children day in and day out.
    That gal defied all odds!

  2. What is it inside of certain people like this girl that makes them defy all odds and overcome all of those extremely difficult obstacles? If only we could pinpoint that.

    And then, think about those people who are given every opportunity to thrive and excel, but they just don't.

  3. It's a tough job we have. I find myself thinking about my kiddos while I'm on vacation too.

  4. I am so glad that you go to work each day with that attitude! I know that you make a difference. Anyone that thinks and plans about instilling great stuff in their students is a good influence! You make me want to be a teacher again.

  5. Have you heard the story about the boy standing on the shore surrounded by hundreds of starfish that had haplessly washed ashore?

    He was picking them up and throwing them back in the ocean one by one. An older man stopped and said, "Son, you can throw those starfish back all day long and it's not going to matter... there are too many."

    The boy threw the one he was holding in his hand into the ocean and said, "It mattered to that one."

    I imagine that your belief in the abilities of your kids affect them mostly in the smallest of ways. Many of them may not achieve great successes by the standards of society, but your belief in them will shine through in the small successes.

    You tell them that they are *somebody* by believing in them.

    The only way you would fail, in my eyes, is to let go of that belief and hope.

    While Ms. Khadija's story is truly inspiring, I venture that your belief in your kids' abilities and hope for their future lies at the heart of hundreds of everyday inspiring stories that you will probably never hear about.

    Thank you for caring and persevering. What you do matters, a lot. To everyone.

  6. Thank you for your kind words on your blog for Khadijah and for those that have supported her. I thought you would like to know that Khadijah has enrolled in the freshman class at Harvard College and has a website to provide updates – We welcome any contributions to help Khadijah in pursuing her education.

    Last week, Khadijah was interviewed by Oprah Winfrey for an episode of her show entitled, “Don’t Stop Believing.” The show will air on Friday, October 2. Please watch for Oprah’s surprise for Khadijah!