My Difficult Path to College Through North Star

Book

As school began last week for hundreds of North Star Academy Charter School middle school students, I'm reminded of when I was in their place ten years ago.

I was in a traditional public school before entering North Star in 5th grade, and until then, I had had some teachers who took a strong interest in my growth, and many who didn't. In general, it wasn't the kind of environment where I constantly felt engaged, or where my engagement was rigorously demanded. I do recall one instance, in particular. One day, a teacher gathered a group of my classmates and myself, handed us all a book, and told us we had a single weekend to read the book. So when I got home, I spent my entire weekend reading the book cover to cover, flipping through the pages at high velocity with the goal of completing it by Monday morning. Only leaving my room to eat, I was able to finish the book. I arrived at school that Monday with a pride and sense of accomplishment. None of my other peers had finished the book. No one had come close. But the teacher simply collected the book from each of us without ever discussing the plot, or what the book meant to us, or even asking why none of the other students had not finished it. This abandonment of the book-and by extension us as students-- stuck with me. What was the point of reading a book, and not even asking the most basic of questions? I felt like something was missing.

Without suggesting that this is the type of thing that happens in other traditional public schools, I can say with certainty that this doesn't happen at North Star. When I enrolled in North Star as a middle schooler, I suddenly became aware of an urgency, an aggressive approach to education. At North Star, every day was a new opportunity to learn some kind of important lesson, to internalize a value which you never considered before. The constant school work, and the highly demanding environment of North Star Academy isn't something that is easy to get used to or accept. The teachers had high expectations for me and knew I could achieve them. I had discovered in myself for the first time a sense of pride in my work. Everything started to become more concrete. Learning suddenly became something that felt real rather than abstract. It was not always easy, though. I fell behind many times, not so much because the work was too hard for me, but because I didn't put in the effort that I should have.

Thinking back on it now, it is clear that I took for granted all of the opportunities that North Star offered me. Instead of continuously appreciating the way I was being challenged and pushed to be better intellectually, I stopped trying. I figured that college was in my path no matter what.

But by senior year, I had lost my way so much academically. My teachers and counselors at North Star kept encouraging me, even when I failed to take all the necessary steps to get into college. I wouldn't listen, though. And after my senior year in high school, I found myself not in college, but working several jobs that completely drained the life from me.

And yet, even though I had graduated from high school, North Star kept reaching out. Certain committed individuals kept believing in me and with their persistent guidance and support, I am finally enrolled in college.

It gets even better. I've returned to North Star and am working with struggling students here, hoping to help others avoid some of the pitfalls that befell me on my way to college.

- David Segarra
Instructional Aide
North Star Academy