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A Real Test of Personal Strength

Kayla Samuel is a young woman who just doesn’t give up.

In middle school, the state tests were Kayla’s Mt. Everest — seemingly unscalable twin peaks of math and English. Even thinking about the tests made her anxious; for two years straight, she had not passed either state test. Eighth grade — the last year of mandated state testing — was her final opportunity to shine.

Kayla, 14, could have let her past disappointing performances be an excuse not to try again. Instead, she turned failure into motivation to achieve what previously she had not been able to do. Last week, Kayla found out she passed both the ELA and math tests, which students across the state took this past spring. She scored a 3 in ELA and a 4 in math.

To me, her story is one of hard work and perseverance. It is also a story of everyone — from her family and her teachers to the support staff at school and the network office — coming together to get a child to believe in herself and help her succeed.

Kayla’s mother, Ms. Elaine Hardon-Samuel, was involved from the start. She was Kayla’s biggest advocate and the best partner we could ask for. She called and texted teachers and staff all the time, asking for updates and advice for how she could support her daughter at home. All along, she showered her with love and encouragement. “If you set your mind to something, you can achieve it,” she would tell her.

Ryan Neary, a math teacher, sat with Kayla each morning before school to help her with homework and build her confidence. Kayla also asked for extra homework and insisted on staying after class to understand why she answered questions incorrectly.

Her teachers never gave up — and when the school discovered that her testing anxiety was getting in the way of her success, the staff quickly came up with a plan. Kendall Richards, dean of students, and Katelyn Klipfel, the school’s psychologist, worked with Kayla and her teachers to ease her anxiety.

Part of that plan also involved me or another staff member taking a walk with her before tests, reminding her that we all loved her and that no matter the score on paper, we were all incredibly proud of her and how much she had learned about herself. This was one of the true lessons for her — learning her strengths and weaknesses and how to overcome.

Her confidence grew so tremendously that by springtime, she didn’t need to go on walks with us anymore. Once, when I arrived to her homeroom to pick her up, Kayla said, “I love walking with you, but I think I am ready to focus on my own — by reading.”

Kayla truly embodies what it means to be a Success Academy scholar — her perseverance and dedication are incredible! We are so happy for her and her family.


Written by Claire Bartkus August 20, 2015

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