Changing the Statistics

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by Janet Fearnside
Spanish Teacher, Los Sueños Academy

It was the spring of 2011, the end of my third year teaching at a district school just two miles south of downtown San Jose, CA. I was feeling something that I hadn’t truly felt before. At least not like this.

I felt proud of what my students and I had accomplished within the four walls of our classroom. It had not been easy; it had been hard-fought. I had made it through the student standing on top of his desk and yelling obscenities during a test (my first year), the stabbing of one of my student’s brother right outside my classroom door (my second year). I had made it through and arrived at this tremendous feeling: My students had become readers, true readers who willingly described Readers’ Workshop as their favorite time of day. It was a phenomenal feeling – one I had always hoped to feel when I had been accepted into Teach for America three years earlier.

But this feeling was counterbalanced by a painful reality that I felt somewhat ashamed — and very anxious — to acknowledge. Nearly half of the public school students in San Jose each year are not proficient in reading, which leads to more than 2,000 middle- and high-school dropouts every year.

I needed to know my students wouldn’t fall victim to those painful statistics. I needed to know that they would continue to be pushed, loved, trusted and believed in during fifth grade and beyond. Aware that consecutive high-quality teachers make a tremendous difference in student achievement, it was obvious to me that one year of great instruction was not going to make my students lifelong learners. It was not going to prevent them from falling victim to the statistical realities that I became a teacher to eradicate.

changestatsI started to look into other options where I could make a lasting impact and came across Rocketship. It quickly became clear that teachers at Rocketship spoke openly about the achievement gap in a way that I hardly ever had at my previous school. They knew it existed; they weren’t afraid of naming it. But they knew that by saying it out loud, it would no longer be a terrifying insurmountable problem, but something that could be tackled, little by little, systematically. I joined the Rocketship team, continuing my fight for educational equity.

Throughout my three years at Los Sueños Academy, I have been struck by the collaborative planning and problem-solving that we all engage in each and every week. When students are performing behind their peers, we don’t wait for them to fall farther behind – for them to become one of the 80% of low-income 3rd graders who are not proficient in reading, ill prepared for higher education and the future.

With the help of coaches, principals and specialists, we dig deep into data to pinpoint skills and strategies that will launch those students forward to two or more years of growth, on track for a college bound trajectory. We collaborate with all stakeholders — including the parents and the students themselves — to ensure that we are all invested in the same goal. We know that these students can succeed. We won’t rest until they do.

I am a Rocketeer because I believe all kids can do amazing things. I no longer reach the end of the year unsure of where my students are going next, because I know that we are unified in the belief that all children are capable of greatness, and there is a tacit — yet unmistakably real — agreement that we will all work tirelessly for our students to attain excellence. At Rocketship, we will change the statistics.

Share other examples of educators striving to attain excellence ➟ @RocketshipEd


Janet came to Rocketship in 2011 after teaching for three years in a neighboring district in downtown San Jose. She earned a BA in Spanish and Linguistics from Washington University in St. Louis and is passionate about teaching in both English and Spanish.  Janet was born in South Dakota, but she now lives with her husband and cat in San Jose and, thanks in large part to the beach and the farmers’ markets, has become a life-long Californian.

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