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Note: This student has requested to remain anonymous and uses gender-neutral pronouns “they/them/theirs.”

"I got in to college!"

Eyes twinkling, smile stretching across their entire face, confidence in every step, it is hard to imagine that going to college was ever a question for L, yet their excitement was palpable every time they got to share a new acceptance letter with CSCS staff. Not only did they get into seven colleges, those admissions letters came with substantial scholarships, making a four year, out-of-state college dream a reality.

L was always fairly successful in school and therefore, the expectation at home was that they would go to college. So why was L the only one surprised? Because before coming to CSCS, L didn’t view themselves as a student.

L attended traditional school and teachers always told them they were smart because their test scores were consistently high. That assessment of intelligence, though, became an assumption of understanding. Therefore, L was accused of being lazy or felt judged for asking questions when they didn’t understand something. Over time, this made L feel like true success was impossible. School was a job: show up, follow directions, complete work, meet deadlines, avoid mean people and stay out of trouble. L tried to keep jumping through the hoops and meet expectations but began failing when teachers’ expectations exceeded L’s skills. Without feeling the possibility of success and the fear of being blamed for failure in school, L saw their hope for the future fading in all aspects of life and stopped seeing the point of trying.

“Being at CSCS has been a life-changer and lifesaver.”

Immediately upon starting at CSCS, L noticed a difference. Teachers asked for preferred names and pronouns in class circles; L’s advisor gave them a safe person to talk to and helped L create connections with other teachers. Students were encouraged to ask for help and seek improvement as staff recognized that even the “smart” students had gaps in their learning. Teachers taught soft skills such as focus, independence, self-advocacy and moving through challenges, rather than assuming students would just figure those out on their own. Most importantly, though, L felt more comfortable being themselves in school than anywhere else.

L’s family realized the academic impact of CSCS as well. When L shared their experiences and work from CSCS over the years, family members currently attending college were surprised saying, “What you are doing at school is what I am doing in college!” More than that, though, L came to believe in themselves as a learner and built confidence in understanding how they are most successful.

“I would rather read and collect data than present, but I’ve realized that I have a lot to share.”

Right now, L is zoned in on completing the last of their requirements to graduate, but not because they are ready to be done with school - because they are excited to continue their learning. L enjoys being a student both in school and in life. Engagement is more than an educational buzz word, it is L’s mantra - if something doesn’t make sense, that means they need to dive deeper into the topic to understand and embrace that struggle.

L is inspired by Clark Street’s Mission and views themselves as an advocate for personalized teaching and project-based learning. They are proud of their CSCS education, believe it is the way to reform education and want to help people understand why their experience as a CSCS student was so powerful. Walking into CSCS, L saw school as a requirement and worried about the future of education but is walking out feeling hopeful; realizing that education isn’t just being in school because we are always going to be learning.

“I have changed as a person and as a student.”

Seeing L walk around CSCS and interact with staff, you would never guess that school used to cause stress and panic. In fact, even if you had gone to school with L back in the day, you likely wouldn’t have noticed either. L was an above average student who did well in school compared to their peers. Over their time at CSCS, though, they learned that in the right environment, they can feel extraordinary.


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2429 Clark St, Middleton, WI 53562, USA

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