Too often, the headlines that top education stories inspire mostly despair. That’s because the tales of success frequently take place at the individual level, when a student and teacher connect to fabulous result or a young person endeavors to tackle every challenge put before him or her.
In honor of graduation week, Learning Curve offers up short portraits of two academic rock stars departing Minneapolis Public Schools for bright futures. Each was touched by a teacher along the way.
On Saturday, Wonder Woman crossed the stage at Patrick Henry High School, flipped the tassel from one side of her mortarboard to the other and then flew off to a limitless future.
Four years ago, when she was choosing a high school program, Maria Maddox checked out DeLaSalle, Southwest and other programs that typically attract top performers. After some serious thought, she enrolled at Patrick Henry — a very good school, but not one that’s typically called out as a top program.
Her reasoning? Her older brother and sister had graduated from Patrick Henry, and both credited its faculty with going out of its way to support kids with high aspirations. “Don’t worry,” they told her. “The teachers will look out for you.”
This week Maddox, 18, graduated first in her class of 400 with a prestigious International Baccalaureate diploma. Thanks in part to a long list of scholarships, in the fall she will enroll in Brown University in Rhode Island where she may study engineering.
When she took to the stage to deliver her speech as valedictorian at last weekend’s ceremonies, Maddox talked about choices. Superheroes don’t have to make many, she told the assembly, “because they can do everything.” Young people, on the other hand, should approach them deliberately.
In the speech, she didn’t talk about her own decisions, but she was thinking about them as she composed her remarks. In particular, she was moved by a conversation she had with her English teacher, Connie Stammers, about which of the colleges that had accepted her she should choose.
“She told me, ‘You’ll have nothing to regret about any decision you make,’ ” Maddox recalled. “She told me I am extremely reflective and I will never regret it because I will make the most of whatever decision I make.”
Which got her started thinking about her decision to attend Patrick Henry. “That was a major choice for me,” she says. “I don’t think any of this would have happened for me otherwise.”
Maybe. Or maybe Maddox knows more about the choices that go into being a superhero than she thinks.
A day earlier, 2023’s Teacher of the Year front-runner accepted a diploma from Edison High. Her college and career trajectory is already mapped out in detail.
The only potential hitch: Her other dream of going to work for the United Nations. (Her mother was forced by civil war to leave Liberia.)
As a junior in Edison’s Voyager career and leadership program two years ago, Candace Bunyan shadowed a veteran kindergarten teacher at the downtown Minneapolis FAIR school and was blown away.
“She really knew how to handle her classroom and get kids’ attention,” Bunyan said. Her career choice firm in mind, she dug in.
Among her accomplishments: trying out her teaching chops by captaining the school dance team and inviting middle-schoolers to join; serving as president of the student government; helping the school district film a video for its Attend to Achieve campaign — attendance is something Bunyan particularly values — and serving as the Voyager program’s school-level president.
As a part of Voyager, Bunyan also took a class at the University of Minnesota every week — plus summer school there. She applied to 10 colleges and for more than 20 scholarships and ultimately decided she was already at home at the U of M.
When she enrolls there next fall, a number of highly competitive scholarships to defray the cost. Among them are grants from Rotary International, the Edison Foundation, Gil Pearson and the U of M.
Opportunity, Bunyan believes, is what you make of it: “I’m someone who, when something is given to me, I take it.”
No doubt in a few short years she’ll be back, helping her own kindergartners launch their academic careers with as much grit and determination.