“Last week we came out of halftime, tied, and maintained strength through regulation into overtime. In the final seconds of overtime, you squeaked out a win, pulled a trick play, and moved up in points.
“Today, we are in the state finals, dead in the heat of halftime, a championship on the line. But, after last week’s regional finals, you are exhausted and exasperated, your flickering flame is extinguishing slowly and we are down, significantly, with another half on the clock.
“Will you leave your heart on the field? We are undefeated champions, 10 years strong, will this be the year you lose?”
This may seem like an excerpt from a coach’s speech to his team in a state championship, but for my students on Enloe Magnet High School’s Student Council this is the pep speech I shared with them entering the final days of raising money for the 11th Annual Enloe Charity Ball.
For the past 11 years, the Enloe High School Student Council has been raising money for a local nonprofit through the Enloe Charity Ball. The first year students raised money for Haven House and brought in approximately $7,000. This past year, in 2014, the Enloe Charity Ball (ECB) raised over $95,000 for Inter-Faith Food Shuttle, a staggering $88,000 increase.
This year the 11th annual ECB is being held to benefit Learning Together, a preschool in Southeast Raleigh that serves the needs of special needs preschool students below the poverty line in an inclusive setting — 50 percent of the students have special needs, and 50 percent of the students are typically functioning. My student council has a goal of $100,000, and we hit $80,000 this week. Every year this student council has outperformed their goal, making them undefeated champions in the eyes of our community.
After two months of coffee sales, concerts planned, art auctions with CAM Raleigh, caroling through the streets, change drives, and homeroom wars, where would we get this last bit of energy?
Exhausted as I am advising, exasperated as they are executing, I needed to dig deep to find enthusiasm, to light the fire in my students, to come out in this second half, $20,000 down, and finish on December 12th reaching a goal of over $100,000.
I found this encouragement, as any other good NC State graduate would, in Jim Valvano’s final ESPY speech as he accepted the 1993 Arthur Ashe courage award:
“I always have to think about what’s important in life… these three things. Where you started, where you are, and where you’re going to be. Those are the three things that I try to do every day.”
I shared these words with my students and asked them to think hard about where they started. To my seniors, what was that feeling their freshman year being challenged to raise $50K and exceeding it by $300? To my freshman, how daunted were you by a $100K goal in three months after being a student for only two? To my sophomores, how did it feel last year knowing the precedent set early on was $95K?
I shared where I started. At White Oak High School in Jacksonville, as student body president, my vice president and I raised $800 off caroling for our local Christmas Cheer toy drive, an unprecedented accomplishment for our council at that time. Close to $1K, hundreds of miles from $100K. I took over Enloe Student Council in April of 2015, closing out my first year of teaching with a group of students setting a goal of $100K for the following December.
So where are we now? My students are working hard for these preschoolers and are understanding and struggling with the concept of inclusion-based learning, alongside inclusive leadership in a magnet school trying to bridge the community of Southeast Raleigh with the larger Wake county population. They are trying to include all members of the school through art, clubs, and donated tickets.
They are reaching out into our community fighting systematic issues of inequality at the preschool level so that the investment in these children is also a future investment in their school. The preschoolers of Learning Together, starting at 18 months, are the future student body of Enloe Magnet High School and the future residents of Raleigh. When our leaders and policymakers are too reactionary, these students have the foresight to be cautionary.
Rather than talking about it, my students are about it. They want to leave an impact on this community while at the same time allowing the preschoolers of Learning Together to leave an impact on them. I have witnessed my council realize that Enloe Charity Ball is only possible due to their privilege of being in a magnet school, in an urban state capitol, surrounded by a wealth of resources; something I did not have access to in southeastern NC as a junior at White Oak High School. However, they have accepted the responsibility of being a magnet student to have no excuses to better themselves, and lead with inclusion and values by investing back in their local community.
These students are creating a legacy for Learning Together. They are the face of possibility lying dormant in magnet schools across this state and nation. They took a little known nonprofit, with no funding machine, hidden between dilapidated homes and tenements, tucked in the streets of Raleigh’s toughest neighborhood, a beacon of hope for our future students and community, and made it their guiding star.
Teenagers have pushed the issues of early childhood education and inclusion-based education from the cobwebs of conversations in the General Assembly to the front pages of newspapers, news broadcasts, and more importantly into the classrooms of our schools.
The halls are buzzing with conversations about early childhood inclusion: “Did you know that investing $1 in a preschool averages out to approximately $10 in a lifetime? That is a one-million-dollar future impact if we raise $100K as a school.” And talk on graduation rates: “At Learning Together, 96 percent of students with special needs enter kindergarten into the traditional classroom on track for on-time graduation.”
Emma O’Brien, vice president of service, was quoted in the News & Observer: “But these are the kids who are going to be coming to our school and they’re going to be the new group of students raising $100,000 or more for charity, we’re building a legacy of how we want to fill our school by impacting their education.”
“One of the reasons we chose Learning Together is because they said they wanted to impact us the way we’ll impact them. They’re teaching us a lot about ourselves and our school that we need to change” explained Christine Long, student body president.
Proving, if you teach kids values, if you let kids explore their dreams, exceed expectations, and set goals for themselves, these systems of inequity will explode and collapse. These kids are leaders.
Where do we want to be? Learning Together shared with us that a donation of $100,000 will over the lifetime of these kids and this community average out to an impact of $1 million. That is where we want to be on December 12th, holding a check for $100,000.
With a few days and $20,000 left, my final words to my kids were these:
“I have never understood my purpose as teacher of two special needs inclusion-based English courses until I have lead a group of students rooted in the value of equity. In these final days we need to harvest our enthusiasm for these students, for this community. We may need to call an audible and go for the trick play in the closing days, but don’t be scared of being bold. In the words of Jimmy Valvano, ‘Don’t give up, don’t ever give up.’ Don’t give up on the dreams of these children. Their dreams are the legacy you will leave.”