Beyond the Classroom

My personal journey along the path to educational equity and liberation

Photo of Cortland Gilliam
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Since August of last year I have been working as a College Completion Coach for a college access and completion non-profit called College Forward (profiled here). In short, this access and completion program, which follows students from 11th grade through college completion, uses near-peer mentors and big data analytics to drive graduation rates for low-income and first-generation college students. I work on the completion side of the program, servicing a caseload of roughly 130 two-year and four-year college students in the Houston area. In my short time with this Americorps funded program, I have developed a tremendous appreciation for the values and vision of this organization. 

I found College Forward at an interesting juncture in my life. I had just completed my first year of teaching and made the tough decision to not return for a second year. One reason for this was a desire to work with students in more of a mentorship capacity, so I began to look for opportunities to work within college access. When I found College Forward, whose core values aligned fairly closely with that of my previous organization (Teach For America), it felt like the perfect fit for the transitional period I was in.

My brief year in the classroom gave me tremendous insight into the pitfalls and obstacles that both our students and education system face. Much debated issues – ones overwhelmingly specific to urban education – such as excessive use of high-stakes testing, punitive and exclusionary disciplinary practices, lack of effective teacher training, arbitrary grade promotion/retention, and equitable teacher evaluation were all things that I wrestled with during my first year.

I am now taking the knowledge and understandings gained from these experiences and looking forward, beyond the classroom, to effect change in other areas of education. My most recent focus has been college access and completion support networks/systems like college forward. 

To learn more about my story, or other College Forward coaches, visit our tumblr blog for organization Member Spotlight & Interviews. 

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Photo of Lisa Yokana

I love this. Thank you for sharing your story. My daughter is a TFA teacher in a high stakes testing environment-fourth grade-so I hear and have seen all the things that you speak about. I love that you didn't leave education-as so many do who don't get the proper support in their first years! And also that you found an avenue that allows you to truly mentor. Now onto the ideate phase! How might we better help this population as they look to college and beyond? i can't wait to hear your thoughts in this phase. And don't worry about having a fully fleshed out idea. Even one that is still very vague is worthy of posting. We can all work together to iterate it and refine. Let me know if you have questions and can't wait to hear more.