Essay: My Student is One Point From Her Diploma

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Amy is one of my students at West Brooklyn Community High School and she has completed all the course work required for a New York Regents diploma. But Amy has a problem, she has not yet passed the United States History Regents exam. After taking the test for the second time this past August, Amy received a 64, just one point away from a passing score.

“That one point changed a lot, because I can’t get a better job. I can’t do a lot of things I want to do. Like, I wanted to take an EMT course so I can become an EMT and have a better job and then save money for college, but I can't do that because I don’t have my high school diploma.,” Amy said. “Even in my job now, where I’m getting $7.25 an hour, you need a high school diploma, and if I don’t get it, you know, my job is at risk.”

My colleagues and I understand that Amy's future hinges on picking up that extra point. As Amy frequently mentions in our conversations, passing this test and receiving her diploma or “that paper,” as she calls it, is her ticket to college and a better career. Amy is not the first student to be, literally, a point away from graduation and, as long as there are required graduation exams, she will not be the last.

As an educator, I ask myself how can I best serve these students? Certainly, every member of our community works hard to meet the needs of students like Amy. Counselors address social and personal needs, while teachers devote time to dynamic content review and skill practice. But, I am always curious as to how we can do a better job of getting students in these positions motivated to push through, motivated to master the subject for reasons that go beyond getting “that paper.”

I want my students to connect with the material and use it to develop skills that they can use after they leave school. Like any teacher, it is absolutely my goal that the students I work with become lifelong learners no matter what situation they find themselves in.

I have had several opportunities to work with Amy over the last year, but our meetings have been frustratingly infrequent. Amy is not a full time student at West Brooklyn, and she is working, so it is difficult for us to find time for the one-on-one tutoring that would serve her best. It is in these tutoring sessions that students might realize history is not just a bunch of dates and facts, but a way to understand life today.

Those types of realizations are not easy to find in the Regents Prep books Amy takes home to study. That is my frustration as a teacher. Amy, meanwhile, fights her own battles with frustration.

“I’ll get mad about this test and I just won’t pay mind to it and I try to find a way to get rid of it and figure out a way to distract myself so I don’t have to think about it,” she said. With the test fast approaching in January, Amy knows the stakes are high.

“I feel like if I don’t pass it, I will have to be here for a whole other term. If I don’t pass it in January, I’ll have to wait until June and it just goes on and on. I want to start college and I want to get a better job. I just want to do better things so I don’t have to be stuck.”

With that in mind, Amy, with the community of West Brooklyn behind her, continues the push to pick up the elusive point that will make all the difference and get her "that paper."

This report is part of American Graduate, a public media initiative addressing the drop out crisis, supported by the Corporation of Public Broadcasting.