Teacher’s Center

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June, 2012 Blog - It Takes a Village to Raise A Child

Just this past week, CNN correspondent Martin Savidge reported on an amazing North Carolina high school senior who held down an after-school job, was a straight-A student in three advanced placement courses, and received a full ride to Harvard College. That might not be completely extraordinary, but the story gets better. The student, Dawn Loggins, had gone to four schools since eighth grade, lived in a home without electricity and running water, and during the summer before her senior year, was abandoned by her parents, leaving her homeless.

 

Dawn is remarkably gracious for an 18-year-old who has faced extreme hardship in her young life. She is grateful for the job she has as a janitor at her school, Burns High School, in Lawndale, a town of about 600 in the Appalachian foothills of western North Carolina. She takes pride in her work cleaning classroom floors, saying if students have to wade through trash, they “won’t have an environment that encourages learning.” From the press coverage of her story, she has received many letters and notes of support and money from total strangers. She hopes to use the money sent to her to start a nonprofit organization to help other teens who’ve faced obstacles in their education. What’s more, she forgives her parents for abandoning her, saying “I just realize that they have their own problems that they need to work through.”

 

As outstanding as Dawn’s accomplishments are—and they are truly outstanding—there is a back story here that also needs emphasizing. So often we hear in the media of failing schools, low test scores, and teachers who let students slip through the cracks. Dawn’s story from homeless to Harvard is also a story of handful of insightful and caring educators from Burns High School and key members of the community who saw her promise and thought out of the box to develop a plan.  By North Carolina law, school personnel are mandated to report any suspected neglect or abuse of a child under the age of 18. If they had followed the law, Dawn would have been placed with social services and eventually a foster home, but there was no guarantee she would have stayed at Burns High School, a place where she felt safe and successful. Instead, key school staff and community members made sure Dawn had the food, shelter, and clothing she needed. Social services could wait.

 

The following chronicles a few of the key people who stepped up and provided Dawn with the encouragement and assistance she needed:

  • Robyn Putnam, her guidance counselor at Burns High School who took her shopping so she would have clothes to wear and sheets to sleep on when she attended the prestigious North Carolina Governor’s School, a six-week residential summer school, to study natural science in between her junior and senior years.

 

  • Junie Barrett, her custodial supervisor who provided her candles so she could study at night when the electricity was shut off at her house. 

 

  • Gary Blake, a former Burns High School principal who arranged a collection from school staff and counselors to pay the family’s power bill one month when Dawn asked for candles so she could study at night.

 

  • Sheryl Kolton, a custodian and bus driver for Burns Middle School and her husband, Norm, who agreed to take her in when her parents abandoned her.

 

  • Many from the Burns High School staff who contributed to her expenses and provided encouragement and, for a time, drove her 50 miles to and from school when she wasn’t living in the district. 

 

  • Dr. Aaron Allen, who helped continue the effort on Dawn’s behalf when he took over as principal during Dawn’s senior year.

 

  • Carol Rose, community member and mother of three college students who helped Dawn fill out her college applications and also convinced her to apply to Harvard College.

 

  • Larry Gardner, Dawn’s Advanced Placement U.S. History teacher, who wrote a recommendation letter from the heart that told her story and described her perseverance, grit, and determination.

 

  • The Harvard College Admissions Committee, who saw something different in Dawn and voted to accept her as a freshman for the class of 2016.

 

As you venture off into summer, think about the times this past school year when you have made a difference, when you’ve gone beyond the norm and helped a student reach a goal considered unimaginable by conventional wisdom. Celebrate this time, for you’ve earned it. We invite you to share your experiences with other members of Teacher's Center by posting your story in the Comments section below. Have a great summer! 

 

For more information on Dawn Loggins, go to http://www.cnn.com/2012/06/07/us/from-janitor-to-harvard/index.html and local paper The Shelby Star http://www.shelbystar.com/sections/homeless_to_harvard/

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