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Great Stories: Raising Expectations

by Yasmine Flodin-Ali, AmeriCorps 2015–16

My first few months of coaching, Karla and I did not immediately click. She alternated throughout session between chatting with friends and staring off into space with a bored expression on her face. She scored an 11 on the baseline ACT and had a 2.3 GPA. Though I never would have said it out loud, I was daunted by the task of getting a student like Karla into a four-year school.

The first time I saw Karla get excited about something was when we covered summer enrichment. I was impressed by the intensity of her passion for criminal justice, and of the long list of notes that she took while researching. As the year went on Karla and I got to know each other better. She stopped chatting during session and pulled her score up to a 15 on the real deal ACT. Through the process of editing her Grit & Growth essay I learned a lot about her family and background story. I was impressed by her resilience and her ability to dream big and set goals.

At the end of the year Karla decided to re-take a math class she had received a D in in order to make herself a more competitive college applicant. Her counselor told her that doing credit recovery would be a waste of time because the grade that she received was strong enough to fulfil the graduation requirement and she was clearly not bound for a four-year college. When Karla told me this story I was appalled. Afraid of the effect that the counselor’s feedback would have on her, I launched into a speech about always reaching for your highest potential. A few minutes in she interrupted me a sigh and an eye-roll. “I know I’m going to a four-year school. That’s not the point! The point is how do I sign up for credit recovery if he won’t sign the paper?” I shouldn’t have worried, Karla knew her own potential, even if the adults around her didn’t always recognize it. She took the class and received an A.

Karla is now a second semester senior. She has been admitted to five four-year colleges, and is in the process of making an admissions decision. She will be the first of her seven siblings to go to college, and she is determined that the younger three follow in her footsteps. She had her highest GPA ever the first semester of her senior year, with a 3.0, and has raised her cumulative GPA to a 2.54. It has been such a joy to watch her grow, not only academically but in her confidence and command of the world around her. Her e-mails to admissions offices have become more professional and polished; her conversations on the phone with financial aid offices more confident and self-assured.

I cannot believe that Karla’s counselor tried to limit her ambition. I cannot believe that when I first met Karla, I was worried about the likelihood of her getting a four-year acceptance. Our students are hard-working, ambitious and talented. They have the ability to succeed; they just need the tools to get there. Our students don’t need us to go easy on them, they need us to believe in them. I know that Karla will face obstacles in college. But I also know that she has an innate drive to succeed that no one can take away from her, and that she is going to do extraordinary things. She already has.

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