By Louisiana Fellow Traci Aucoin
There are many challenges that await us as 21st century educators, including the opportunity for all children to have the chance to obtain a post-secondary degree. Challenges that bring opportunities that will enlist new approaches to keeping students engaged in learning so they can achieve their full potential. These challenges are why I am honored and excited to have been selected to participate in the Louisiana Educator Voice Fellowship which will allow me to assist in designing curriculum that engages students and helps prepare them for 21st century learning across the state.
As a young girl, I don’t remember hearing words spoken about certain values, but I recognize that I had wonderful mentors throughout my life who modeled principles and beliefs centered in core competencies that would shape my life. I witnessed and began to emulate habits of excellence, hard work, commitment and dedication toward a higher need.
I believe that all my life’s experiences have positioned me for my work with GEAR UP which provides opportunities and valuable educational experiences for kids and helps them plan and prepare for post-secondary education.
I like to tell this story about one of my students, Ebna. I met Ebna when he was in the 6th grade. He was a quiet little boy who never spoke a word. He wasn’t engaged in school and his grades reflected his lack of interest. I wasn’t sure why Ebna agreed to participate in a project called HEAT, a math competition we were hosting through UL, so I asked him.
“Ebna,” I asked, “why did you choose to join the HEAT team?”
“Because someone asked me to,” he said.
So, Ebna, who was failing math, signed up for all the after school work, learning math disguised as getting ready for the competition. He was open to learning, fearless of exposing his lack of math skills to others but committed to the experience. He didn’t score well in that first competition, but year after year he continued. The following year, Ebna moved from the bottom of the list to one of our top scorers.
“This was one of the best days of my life,” Ebna said after he won his gold medal. He graduated high school college and career ready and this was a kid who was already checked out of school in the 6th grade.
Ebna reminded me of my own son, Michael who struggled in school because learning was difficult. Michael was dyslexic, but he had an advocate who could keep him connected and moving forward when learning became tough. Every day, I see my son in so many of our kids struggling who don’t always have an advocate to help them move forward. Recently Michael graduated with honors from UL’s College of Engineering. It was one of the best days of my life! Michael now works a job that will offer him the opportunity for a successful and happy life.
I’ve learned there are no silver bullets in education. There are lots of needs that require our attention. There is no one single thing but lots of initiatives that we can do and must do well. I know that helping others matters, I’ve learned to surround myself with people who build, who seek to do the right thing and who unify others. I want to help kids see that they are valued and worthy of greatness so that they can grow and mature into something far more beautiful than they can ever imagine.