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One Job, Two Hats: The Dual Mission of HSLA Teachers

As an English teacher at the Success Academy High School of the Liberal Arts, I love generating class discussions about novels like The Scarlet Letter and Go Tell It On The Mountain with my students. They always surprise me with their insights, and I know that their ability to become great writers and thinkers will serve them well in college.

But the best part of my job doesn’t take place in the classroom. It happens during the one-on-one meetings I have twice a week, with the ten scholars I’ve advised, some for the past two years. During these meetings, and in countless informal conversations, I help students develop the confidence and emotional skills they’ll need just to not just gain admission to college — but thrive there.

Since Success Academy opened the High School of the Liberal Arts in 2014, the role of teachers as academic instructors and personal advisors has been a critical aspect of our high school design. As an advisor, my job — one shared by most teachers in the school — is to bridge the gap between my advisee’s home and school life, offer strategic guidance about their academic progress, and help them think holistically about their talents and goals for the future.

When I stand at the front of my English classes, I help a larger group of students develop a deep understanding of the literature we read. But when I advise students, I have the unique opportunity to see each scholar as an individual. I can develop a better understanding of the challenges they face today and the hopes they have for the future.

I have the unique opportunity to see each scholar as an individual. I can develop a better understanding of the challenges they face today and the hopes they have for the future.

And the stakes for the students I mentor — most of whom are black or Hispanic — couldn’t be higher. Students of color often face unique challenges in college. Just under 40% of black students, and less than half of Hispanic students entering college will graduate within six years — significantly less than their white counterparts. Over half of African American students need to engage in academic catch-up, enrolling in remedial courses that cost money, but don’t directly count towards a degree. The academic preparation Success provides, coupled with an advisee program that helps students acquire time-management skills, set long-term and short-term goals, and learn about options for financing their education, will help my scholars overcome these statistics.

While my goal is to help my scholars handle problems on their own when they reach college — I also want them to know that it’s OK to ask for help from academic advisors or college counseling centers. Too often, college students fail to seek assistance when they’re struggling — or don’t even realize that there are college counseling offices available to support them with a variety of challenges. Awareness of these services is critical for college success, so Success Academy scholars receive one hour of “college knowledge” courses each week, where they learn how to set goals, manage long-term assignments, and budget their free time.

From acting as a sounding board for scholar frustrations, to being an academic coach, my job looks different every day — and no two students require exactly the same approach. But as an advisor and educator, my goal for them is the same: To help them develop confidence in their ability to solve problems, and reach their goals for the future.

 

Written by Mona Alsaidi March 1, 2017

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