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An offshoot of Ed Trust’s Echoes From the Gap series, drawing stories of students from behind the statistics, this blog series shares shorter narratives — brief glimpses into classrooms and hallways — that give readers an opportunity to examine educator practices and policies through the intimate lens of student experience. All stories are based on interviews or first-hand accounts but are shared with respect for the privacy of students and the adults around them.

 

“While one may encounter many defeats, one must not be defeated.” — Maya Angelou

They were pre-determined by statistics the least likely to be standing there on graduation day.

Young.

Black.

Male.

Low-income.

This they knew.

All too familiar with the constant weight of the odds stacked against them.

There was a moment that each of them slid into those statistics in seemingly inevitable freefall.

Each feared it was their end.

But instead they found New Beginnings.

Tucked away, behind the guard booth and layers of fencing of a juvenile detention center in Maryland is the Maya Angelou Academy at New Beginnings.

They arrived with more than their share of struggle and less than their share of support.

They expected more of the same.

But at New Beginnings, they — and their worlds — were transformed.

Their wounds became battle scars.

Their struggles became resilience.

And the hopes that they kept tucked behind steel-armored young eyes became real, glimmering possibilities.

It wasn’t just that the educators they met there didn’t judge them.

It wasn’t that they simply held them in caring arms.

It was that they cared enough about them — and believed enough in them — to push them academically and encourage them to strive.

They didn’t quit on them when they made mistakes.

Didn’t simply coddle them when they struggled in class.

They spoke to their resilience and determination.

And they saw in them their real potential.

And these educators, they stayed alongside them.

They prepared them not just to achieve their diplomas, but to navigate the steps beyond.

Guided them in researching colleges and areas of interest.

Helped them fill out financial aid forms and write application essays.

Cheered alongside them as they tore open college acceptance letters.

Until they rose and stood tall.

In caps and gowns.

In front of a sea of cheering parents and grandparents, siblings and friends. And educators who knew they could do it.

Graduate after graduate spoke from the stage of their future plans and of the support they received from family members and caring teachers and counselors at New Beginnings.

They spoke of the weight of doubts and struggles they carried when they entered, now transformed to strong, proud shoulders facing tomorrow.

They were pre-determined by statistics the least likely to be standing there on graduation day.

Young.

Black.

Male.

Low-income.

This they knew.

But, at New Beginnings, they learned that they were strong beyond measure.

That their sturdy stems and thorns could pass through any struggle.

And their beautiful petals bloom.

They rose.

They rose.

They rose.

As high school seniors across the country rise in caps and gowns to cross that threshold of achievement to the future, we honor in particular those who have fought hardest to get there, defying stereotypes, struggle, and the statistics that say they can’t. And the educators and schools who never, never, never give up.

Happy graduation.

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