Katelyn was in my first-period class, the one with all of the highest achieving kids at Dayton. She wasn’t one of them: she struggled. She was two years behind them in math. She was behind in her credits and graduation was uncertain. But graduation really didn’t matter that much to her, as she was planning on following her mom’s path and become a hairdresser.
Little of what she was learning in school had any relevance to her planned future. Certainly not computer programming. She would sit, slumped in her chair, chewing her gum. When I would come around, she would look at me and roll her eyes. “This is so boring,” she would tell me, elongating the “o” in “so” in a way only a teenage girl can do.
Another lap for me around the classroom. The same roll of the eyes. I would tell her that this wasn't about coding, but about learning. She wasn't buying it. "Come on, Kaitlyn,” I would urge, "you can do it!"
But then I began to notice something. Every week, her team had their project update ready to share with the rest of the class. She made sure of it by clearly defining tasks and responsibilities. Her leadership of that team was clear.
Near the end of the sprint, a reporter from the local paper called and asked if she could stop by with a photographer and write a story about our Innovation Academy in the Careers Class. I arranged for her to come and visit the first-period class.
The writer spent the morning floating around the classroom interviewing different students.
The article appeared on the last day of our class. I asked the students to read it online. I told them that they had done something special and that others were noticing.
After the bell rang, the kids streamed out of the classroom. But I stopped Katelyn before she left. I asked her if she had read the article. She nodded. Then I asked her if she had noticed anything about that article. She didn’t know what I was talking about, so I continued. I talked about how the writer had come to her class to hear the story of something amazing that the students had done, this class that had the best and the brightest of Dayton’s school.
But one student had more quotes in that article than any other. They were her quotes. It was her voice that most impressed the writer.
I went on, "Perhaps that writer saw something in you that you are not yet seeing in yourself." She looked at me. This time there wasn't an eye roll. She quietly asked if she could take a copy of the article home to show her mom.
That moment dented her universe.
I bumped into Katelyn right before graduation the following year. I had been following her story: how she had passed all of the math classes she needed to graduate, how she had joined the varsity softball team – a team that had gone all the way to the state finals – and how she had a new confidence that marked her stride.
When she told me she was planning to go to a beautician school after graduating, my heart sank. But then she continued, explaining how she was then going to go down to LA and become a make-up artist. Then her plan was to return to Oregon to start her own cosmetic company. She was on a mission. She had found her purpose. She was a force to be reckoned with.
She believed in her greatness.
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