One Person at a Time

At this time of year, especially, we’re forced to confront the great need for those less fortunate in our communities. The need exists year round, of course, but we can turn our faces away and close our eyes once the tree is taken down and the lights are packed away.

I often feel overwhelmed by the very small amount that I can do for others, and I wonder if it really matters. But, a friend of mine who is much more of a take-action kind of person than I made me realize that one person can actually change the trajectory of another person’s life.

My friend, Jennifer Stark Fry, and I taught high school English together many years ago. She continued her career in education, most recently being the International Baccalaureate (IB) coordinator at a high school in Wichita, KS. The high school is much like Tulsa’s Booker T. Washington. I won’t go into everything she did for her students, the amazing energy she put into teaching and the years of service she gave to public education. Suffice it to say that her students are doing incredible things all over the world.

In the wake of all the negativity toward the teaching profession, rise of high-stakes standardized testing and lack of education funding, Jennifer, like many of her colleagues decided to do something else, so she quit teaching, but she didn’t give up on kids. Knowing that many students need help with the college admission process, she started her own business to help high school students with everything involved in getting into college.

Which brings me to my story.

Jennifer happened to read a feature in the New York Times by reporter Anemona Hartocollis. The story, “Senior Year at Topeka High” profiles three Topeka High School seniors as they think about the possibility of going to college. Hartocollis points out that, “Nearly all high school students want to go to college these days, studies show, but many never make it. Of those who do, many fail to earn their degrees. Researchers call this the ‘aspirations-attainment gap.’” The article tells the students’ stories, highlighting what many lower-income and even middle-income students face.

These are the students whose families may not have the means to send their children to college, or don’t know how to navigate the system of deadlines for FASFA, applications, common apps, scholarship applications and other materials necessary to go to college. And most of the information is online, so those who don’t have computers must go to libraries or schools to fill out the forms. It can be overwhelming for even the most involved and knowledgeable parent.

I read the article and thought, “That’s a very real problem. No amount of standardizing testing or ‘college and career ready’ talk is going to solve that.”

Jennifer read the article, and a light bulb went on in her head. She contacted the New York Times from her home in Wichita. She connected with the reporter, Anemona Hartocollis, and offered her college guidance services free of charge to the three students featured in the article.

I just got a message from Jennifer today, and she is going to take one of the students, Taty’Terria Gary to tour Newman University and Wichita State tomorrow. TaTy’Terria, according to the article, has dreams of becoming an OB-GYN. Her entire story is under the heading “The Allure of Leaving Kansas” in Hartocollis’ article.

Because she was so moved by the stories of these students in her own state, Jennifer told me that she’s thinking of re-focusing her entire college counseling business by turning it into a non-profit to help students like the ones in the article. I believe in my friend Jennifer. Maybe I’ll start a GoFundMe page for her – I’m not sure how to do that, but it certainly would be worth my time to figure out. Maybe that’s my way of giving.

Jennifer Stark Fry is just one person with a vision and a heart for helping young people achieve their dreams. Maybe one college tour on one day can start a young woman on the road to becoming a doctor. Maybe it can start a truly meaningful conversation about what public high school students really need, rather than empty phrases like ‘college and career ready’ that spill so easily from the lips of so-called “reformers” of public education.

Students need more than words. Many of them just need some support, some information and someone like Jennifer to open the door.

Just because you can’t fix everything doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.

UPDATE: Click here for a follow-up video to this story.

Categories: Editor’s Blog