Student Spotlights

Student Spotlight: A Blessing at Thurgood Marshall Academy

Lana Learn academic coach shines the spotlight on an extraordinary student who completed an online college math course in the span of three weeks.

Wednesday morning, July 5th

“Good morning Mr. Toju, I finished the math course. What should I do next?” 

Those were Blessin’s first words to me as she and the other students settled in for their online course sessions. A week of portfolio presentations followed a week of final exams. The school year at Thurgood Marshall Academy ended on Friday June 16th. And with it, the first installment of our High-Impact Tutoring (HIT) wrapped up. Blessin and other HIT participants had opted to spend their summer taking first-year online college courses on Modern States. So, the next week,  they were back in room 214 with me. They had their laptops and notebooks open, ready to start their courses. Little did I know that I was about to witness an extraordinary student in action.

Three weeks later, Blessin was telling me she had completed her selected course. She likes to specify that it was, in fact, two and a half weeks.  

All these students are 9th graders moving on to 10th grade this fall. They are all 15 years old although Blessin is still 14 and doesn’t turn 15 till August. 

What Blessin had just casually referenced “finishing” was first year college algebra in 3 weeks!! (Okay, two and half weeks to be specific!!) 100% course completion and 100% average score on all exercises and homework! Need context? She just completed modules on:

  • Algebraic Operations (Polynomials, Exponents, Logarithms, etc.)
  • Equations and Inequalities (Quadratics, Absolute Values, etc.)
  • Functions and their properties (Graphs, Plotting Functions, etc.)
  • Number Systems and Operations (Real Numbers, Integers, Factorials and Binomial Theorem

Amazing fact? – She did not ask for or need my help at any point. She followed all the professor’s lectures, took copious notes, and did all the required work diligently.  We are now registering this extraordinary student for the CLEP exam which will get her college credit for the course. Yes, she doesn’t turn 15 till august!!  

How did all this come about?

How did I end up with rising 10th graders taking first-year college courses? 

It started with revisiting my responsibility, goals, and mission here at Thurgood Marshall Academy. I had previously discussed and envisioned them with Sanjay Mitchell and Hamzat Saba from the TMA administration.

To academically engage, coach, tutor, teach, mentor, provoke and inspire the student participants from their current “very good / very promising” academic profiles to “excellent high achievers / peer leaders and mentors.

“They are B students who should all be A students!” I was repeatedly told.

As per OSSE guidelines, HIT coaching sessions are strictly one new cohort per semester. However, as an academic coach, I would continue the program’s impact and benefits to my students. It is my standard to be available “as a coach, mentor and resource” to all HIT @TMA participants while they are students here. That will not end with their HIT cohort semester! 

To this end, Mr. Saba and I considered how best to engage the students from the just-completed HIT cohort over the summer. Yes, we would be focusing on the new 9th graders in the summer prep program; observing and beginning the HIT cohort selection process for the 2023-24 school year. 

But this first HIT cohort at the inception of the program had not even gotten a full semester worth of coaching! Most of them were only just beginning to appreciate the value of having a coach who enhances the academic experience provided by their teachers. All of them were wondering and asking if I would still be here next year. (Yes, I will!) 

We decided on enrolling them in single courses from the Modern States Freshman Year for Free program. A non-profit education alliance “dedicated to making a high-quality college education free of cost and accessible,” Modern States allows students to earn up to a year of college credit without tutiton or textbook expenses. Our students chose from courses such as College Algebra, Analyzing and Interpreting Literature, Social Sciences and History. They could work on their courses online anytime they wanted, but they had to come into the classroom for online sessions at least twice a week for a minimum of two hours each session. We anticipated it would take them most of the summer to get through their courses. I expected to spend a lot of time going over challenging concepts and difficult assignments with them.

What I did not expect was for Blessin to finish college algebra in 3 weeks. I did not anticipate anyone getting a 100% average score in any of the courses! I kept expecting that, eventually, she would say, “Yes please!” when I checked in with her to see if she needed any help with the Math. 

Of course, Mr. Saba and I were utterly dumbfounded and amazed by this extraordinary student! We checked her work thoroughly. Mr. Saba inquired, “Are you sure nobody helped you with any of this?” even though we both knew the answer was no

In retrospect, if any of the HIT program participants could accomplish this, it would be Blessin. All the signs and clues were there.  

Of the 27 HIT program participants, she was the only student selected for both cohorts: math and English language arts (ELA). Most of the other HIT students were “B” students working on their math and ELA competencies; acquiring the skill, habits, and mindsets of “A+” students. She was one of the three actual “A+” students in the program (A+ in math and A- in ELA). She was also one of just two students I observed whose focus and attention span in the classroom seemed completely unfazed by the distractions of unruly classmates. Additionally, she always engaged in her work: quiet and taking notes, typically finished with her classwork early and starting on her homework. She tuned everything else out. 

It is not surprising at all that she is here 5 days a week by 9am, assisting with a summer school math class for 90 minutes before she comes to room 214. That she takes shorter breaks than anyone else during the coaching sessions. She consistently engages with her courses for three hours at a time. I am sure by now you can imagine she “takes her work” home with her, which includes some of the weekend! 

Final Thoughts

So, yes, Blessin finished college algebra when all the other students had barely gotten through a quarter of their courses.  

I am happy and congratulatory for her, but even more than that, I am thankful for her. She manifests and embodies the nuances, habits, and values I am working to instill and inspire in the students I coach. The habits and values that engender success, however you define it. The habits and values that differentiate very good from excellent; the fine line between talented and exceptional.

Blessing proves that 14 or 15 is not too early nor too young to cultivate this mindset.  

And in case you are wondering, she is already halfway through a second online course: college mathematics.  

So, I have different suggestions for her now. She says she has not seen the film “Hidden Figures.” It’s based on the true story of female African American mathematicians with NASA in the early years of the U.S. space program. She says she has neither considered nor explored playing chess. It’s hard to imagine no one ever suggested that to her before now. However, I’m happy to push her into exploring these possibilities. This extraordinary student already has the requisite mindset. 

The hallways of Thurgood Marshall Academy.
District of Columbia Office
2101 L Street, NW Suite 300
Washington, DC 20037
Washington State Office
800 5th Avenue, Suite 101-800
Seattle, WA 98104

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