The first time I visited PATH Academy was four years ago with my husband, the new President of Oglethorpe University. As we entered the school, the kids had lined up on either side of the walkway, standing tall and proud in their neat uniforms, and they shook our hands, politely introducing themselves. I promptly choked up and had to fight back tears because it was so moving to hear the names from Ethiopia, El Salvador, Bosnia, Vietnam and Sudan and see the beautiful young faces uplifted to ours in excitement – until Principal Extraordinaire Suttiwan Cox gently explained that some of the younger ones thought that President Bush and his wife were coming to visit – not just the university president.
Now my stepdaughter Lindsay (aka Ms. Southworth in the classroom) teaches at PATH, a KIPP Charter School of choice, and watching her educate these refugee, immigrant and local children in a school devoted to offering rigorous academics that will lead these kids to top-flight colleges is truly amazing. PATH’s motto is Perseverance: Accomplishment: Triumph: Honor … and for eight years it has been expecting (and realizing) great things of its wildly diverse students.
In 2010, 100% of PATH 8th graders passed the Reading CRCT, despite the fact that the majority of 5th graders entering the school arrive at PATH without basic reading skills. The students make these great leaps forward by working longer (7 am til 3:30 pm, Monday –Thursday, and 7 am til 1 pm on Friday, plus two weeks of summer school), getting homework help and tutoring, and by learning from dedicated, talented teachers like Lindsay.
Lin teaches 7th grade world history and her room is bright, neat, and energizing, with signs clearly spelling out her expectations of the students and a Wall of Fame for good projects. She works incredibly hard to prepare lesson plans for her students, communicates her ideas clearly and vividly, and knows how to engage the kids in discussions. She loves to teach and has a gift for it, but mostly, she’s drawn to the school’s mission of giving these disadvantaged children a sense of possibility and preparation for a bright and promising future.
The day Larry & I visited, the students all got into a big circle, joined hands and shouted out their morning chant. “Who are you?” “We are the sons and daughters of immigrants!” “And where are you going?” “We’re going to college!” It still chokes me up to think about it – but then, as Lulu would say, “Everything makes you cry, Mom.”
On this Labor Day weekend, I’m honoring the teachers who labor mightily to educate our children – and donating $100 for Lindsay to use in her classroom for books… or in the teachers’ lounge (now there’s an oxymoron!) for a coffee machine. I’m lobbying hard for the coffee machine but Lindsay, like a true teacher, thinks the money should go to the children. What a girl!