Teacher Voice

LEADing a Pivotal Moment

Today marks the second year that LEAD High School in Nashville, Tennessee has 100 percent of its 2015 graduating class celebrating their acceptances into four-year colleges. As I write that, I have chills on my arms and am holding back tears. I taught eighth grade at its feeder school, LEAD Middle School, and I know that next year those students will be made up of my first class of eighth graders. It is overwhelming, exciting and a monumental moment for the school, for the kids and their families, and for the future of education. LEAD High is situated in north Nashville, a low-income neighborhood, whose surrounding schools continue to struggle and sadly cannot boast the same numbers for their graduating classes. In fact, the majority of high school students in Metro Nashville Public Schools did not score nearly high enough on the ACT to be considered college ready. What’s so exciting about LEAD’s success is that it shows what is possible for all kids. LEAD is the first public charter high school in the city and its enrollment is almost entirely students who receive free or reduced lunch. These students have been held to high expectations for years—longer school days, challenging college prep curriculums and character building classes, among other things. Rising to those expectations has paid off. As a city and as a country, we have no excuse to not continue this work for kids everywhere. LEAD has shown it is possible. YES Prep in Houston has shown it is possible. Schools far and wide have set the bar high and kids from all backgrounds, from all zip codes, from all communities have risen to that bar and accepted the challenge. I can’t imagine the feeling I’ll have next year when I watch Mikayla come up to the front of the stage and tell the crowd where she’ll spend her next four years. Where she’ll grow, and change, and learn and continue to become the amazing girl I met as a 13-year-old. Or the following year, when I know—beyond a shadow of a doubt—that Ja’Ohn will walk to the front of the room and pretend to be shy, while he bursts with excitement to share the life changing years ahead of him. What is easy to forget on a day like today is not that this is transformational for communities, but that it is the start of something that will continue to be hard day-in and day-out. These students are about to embark on one of the most arduous journeys of their lives, and signing day is only the beginning. They have shown the people who believe in them what is possible, but it is also the first day of a more daunting task ahead: persevering from the first day of college to the last. These are kids who will, for the most part, be the first in their family to attend a four-year college. They are the first, for some, to graduate from high school. To score higher than a 21 on the ACT. To leave the state in pursuit of higher education. But, they are ready. They are driven. And I believe that they are carving a path for future generations of students to follow in their footsteps. Congratulations to the LEAD High School seniors! You’ve reached a pivotal moment that every single one of you should be deeply proud of. Today is the beginning of your next four years!
Liz Riggs is a writer and educational equity advocate who lives in Nashville, Tennessee.
Liz is a writer and educational equity advocate who lives in Nashville, Tennessee.

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