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An experience of a lifetime

Krystal Hardy | Wednesday, January 13, 2010

As a first-generation African-American college graduate from a low-income community in Alabama, my life is a true testament to hope, determination, and the impact of meaningful relationships with effective teachers. When I think back to one of my proudest moments, May 20, 2007 parades itself across my mind. That day marked the culmination of an incredible journey I began in the fall of 2003 as a freshman at the University of Notre Dame. For four years, I had learned to examine constructs critically, intertwine my faith and passion for social justice, and make a valuable contribution to our local, national, and global landscape. I remember how my heart raced that day, reminiscing about my four years at Notre Dame and contemplating the days and weeks to come. Shortly after graduation, I was to begin a new journey as a Teach For America corps member in South Louisiana … an experience that would truly change the course of my life.

For these past two years, I have been a fourth grade teacher in a rural, low-income community on the outskirts of Baton Rouge, La. Through the pre-service training and professional development Teach For America provided, I learned the pillars of effective instruction, was consistently supported by instructional coaches, and was prepared to transform an environment of academic challenges into a vibrant setting of excellence. The training I received contributed to my success in the classroom and as a leader in various other settings and while I certainly encountered obstacles, I was able to overcome them by working with students, parents and administrators to ensure that all my students achieved significant academic gains.

When I reflect upon the challenges and progress of my students, I think of K’Wien, whom I met during my second year in the classroom. The first moment I laid eyes upon him, I knew he was a force to be reckoned with. I quickly came to realize though that K’Wien was a really good kid who was afraid to let his guard down. After diagnosing his math and reading skills, I found that he was on grade level in math, but his reading skills were far behind. His fluency was on a second-grade reading level of only 62 words per minute, the second lowest diagnostic score in my class.

K’Wien exerted very little effort in class or on any of his homework, so I began to call his mom to explain his progress. Although, I began to see him try a little harder it simply wasn’t enough. I decided to speak with his pee-wee football coach who promised that if K’Wien didn’t put forth effort in class, he’d be benched from all subsequent games. By connecting with his influencers and through a lot of intensive one-on-one reading sessions, K’Wien’s grades began to increase dramatically. By November, he had reached reading 94 words per minute and before Christmas break, his fluency was at a record high of 114 words per minute, well beyond the expectations set nationally for fourth grade. Most rewardingly, when K’Wien would enter my classroom he would hug me and say, “Good morning, Ms. Hardy!” as I greeted him with “Good morning, rockstar!”
I felt that as a young woman of color I was able to have an additional impact on K’Wien and my other students. My school was predominantly made up of African-American and biracial students. There is power in being able to see and visualize yourself fulfilling your dreams. Not only did they hear me speak passionately about the fact that they could achieve anything but they were saw a living example of someone from their same ethnic background and socioeconomic status telling them they were capable of whatever they set their minds to. In addition to the core curriculum, I taught my students that their zip code didn’t have to determine their destiny.

As a person of color, I feel a personal call to ensure that I contribute to closing the achievement gap that affects millions of children across our nation. If you too identify as a talented minority student leader, consider the impact you can have in the lives of disadvantaged youth. Your voice and presence are necessary. And even if you do not self-identify as a minority, consider the incredible impact you can have by becoming a Teach For America corps member and joining the movement to eliminate educational inequity. In the famous words of Mahatma Gandhi, “be the change you want to see in the world.” Go Irish!

Krystal Hardy
class of 2007
Nov. 6