Channel Clivens Atkins is a teacher at New Orleans Charter Science & Mathematics High School in Louisiana, where she has taught Quest for Success and Junior Seminar for the past 2 years. She has also taught in learning centers and nonprofit agencies. Atkins is a Career Coach and the Executive Director of the NOECareerCenter. She earned a Bachelor’s in Business Administration and Marketing from Loyola University New Orleans, with additional studies in Middle School Mathematics from the University of New Orleans. She also earned a Master’s in Business Administration from Regis University.
Tell me a bit about yourself — what subject areas do you teach? What grade levels? What is your school like? How long have you been teaching?
As a career coach, I value growth, support, and purpose. I regularly work with clients who are transitioning careers and employment opportunities; often they are discouraged and uninformed and have no idea how to proceed to the next steps in their lives. This causes so many other problems for job seekers and certainly does nothing to help our communities or our economy. I entered the field of education to help make careers accessible for generations of young people in a way that seeks to mitigate this type of hopelessness and encourages them to seek opportunities that speak to their passion and purpose. I've been on this labor of love now for five years.
I have found my home at New Orleans Charter Science & Mathematics High School, Sci High, in New Orleans where I teach Quest for Success and ACT Prep to high school juniors. It is my second year at Sci High. Sci High is an open-admission public charter school that prepares all students for college admissions and successful careers. Sci High provides a rigorous high school curriculum with an emphasis on science and mathematics in a supportive environment of learning and respect that prepares students to make informed choices about post-secondary pursuits.
What was your classroom like before Quest for Success? What did you feel might have been missing? What did you struggle with as an educator?
Project-based learning was not a part of my teacher toolbox before teaching Quest for Success. At the time, experiential learning only took place when I called students to the board to work out a math problem, had them show their work on paper, or had them consult with a shoulder partner to correct sentence structures. Students were learning the material, but they weren't connecting to it in a way that helped them answer the question "What's in this for me?" I find that I spent more time pulling the greatness out of them. In Quest for Success, students are achieving things that they never saw as possible for and discovering their greatness for themselves.
What was the best part of implementing Quest for Success? What did you find the most useful in regards to the resources?
I really enjoyed having the opportunity to collaborate with other teachers across the state. Seeing how the lessons played out in other schools, grades, and districts was inspiring. Being able to find support when I was struggling to scaffold a lesson or make connections for ELL students was also invaluable. I never felt like I was doing this by myself. I also loved seeing and sharing student work. Inside the classroom, my highlights included teaching students to do things with ease that they initially thought was unattainable, seeing the excellence they displayed doing group and individual presentations, watching students grow in their willingness to take risks, their technology skills, their professionalism and collaboration, and overall knowledge.
What I found most useful was the varied types of activities (videos, graphic organizers, online lessons, etc.) and the student and teacher guides, which students were able to handle and refer back to as needed.
Do you have any specific stories to share about a student in your class and their experience with Quest for Success?
One student, let's call him Jeremiah, started the class with the proclamation that he had no idea what the class was all about, but he hated it, he hated me, and he wasn't going to be doing any work. At the end of the year, he was leading group projects, excitedly entering the classroom asking what we were going to do that day, and spent far more time in the room than out because he found what we were doing interesting, meaningful, and fun. Another student, let's call her Shelly, began Quest for Success painfully shy. Although very bright, she checked out whenever there was mention of a group project or standing up and speaking in front of the class. Throughout the year, Shelly found her voice and was able to confidently present her ideas in class. She went from the student always designated to take the group's notes to the facilitator of her group and she shone in that role.
There is a quote that says "the student who needs love the most is the one who shows it in the most unloving ways." I have found this to be true. Being aware of the students who need the most encouragement and support is the first step towards breaking through the walls to help them to see what they can actually achieve. Sometimes the "unloving ways" manifest with disciplinary issues in the classroom, but sometimes they show up as self-doubt and a tendency to shut down and withdraw. To support Jeremiah and Shelly, I used the information that I learned about them from their respective personality assessments, student success plans, learning style inventories, and interest profiles — which students completed at the beginning of Quest for Success — to strategically provide encouragement and support that met their individual needs.
For Jeremiah, that meant breaking the work down into small parts and checking in after each segment to keep him engaged and on task. At times, it meant being mindful of the groups he worked with to be sure that he was collaborating with peers who modeled the level of engagement we aspired to for him. I also met with him between classes to check in on how his day was going. He began to trust me as someone who was genuinely concerned and interested in him. I soon found out that he had experienced the death of a close loved one at the beginning of the school year, and so school was the furthest thing from his mind. Because I demonstrated to him that I cared and offered him support, and because he experienced positive and motivating teamwork with his peers during the performance tasks in Quest for Success, he was able to overcome his personal challenges, succeed in class, and shine as a student.
For Shelly, the support I provided her was focused on working with her to better understand how building 21st-century competencies (like communication and collaboration) were going to be important to achieving her goals for the future. Because both she and I had a clear idea of her strengths and goals due to the initial activities in Quest for Success that guide students to better understand themselves, we were able to deliberately connect how the skills she was developing in Quest for Success mattered for her aspirations in high school and beyond, as well as the specific skills she needed to focus on. Constant encouragement and opportunities for hands-on learning and real-world projects were a big part of Shelly’s breakthrough as well—she liked to see how what she was learning in the course mattered for the real world.
I have many other examples as well. Kim was certain that she would be a baker when she grew up. She liked to bake things, so that's all she ever considered. Through Quest for Success, she learned about her personality type and began piecing together the elements of her skill set and her interests and discovered some opportunities she had never considered in the healthcare field. David, who has an exceptionality, started the class unable to communicate with his peers about anything but his favorite sport. By the end of the class, he had the number one food truck presentation, complete with music, a narrated commercial, and a concept that made the other students notice. Students who thought things were too complicated soon understood what was possible with time, effort, and tenacity, and the payoff was exceptional. The way that this course embodies our school's mission was just the icing on the cake.
What are your goals for your classroom moving forward?
My goal is to equip an increasing number of students with the cross-sector competencies they need to successfully compete and thrive in the workforce. I seek to get students thinking more critically, communicating more effectively, collaborating more readily, and leading more confidently.