Convocation with Dr. Stephen Zrike
Back to School Teacher Event • Holyoke High School

The teacher is of course an artist, but being an artist does not mean that he or she can make the profile, can shape the students. What the educator does in teaching is to make possible for the student to become themselves. Paulo Friere

janthony-speech-hhs   zrike-janthony-speech

Almost three years ago I was nowhere near this podium. I was on my way to a GED program, because I had withdrawn from school. Years ago I was dubbed an “at-risk” student, I still probably am. Three years ago I had become a father to my son. I had escaped the grip of the judicial system to wind up feeling excluded at Holyoke High School. I left behind my future of a higher education because I saw no future. I’ve been arrested three times. I’ve bounced around to more than 5 foster homes and two group homes. I’ve spent time in Westfield Youth Services Center. I had almost become a victim of the school-to-prison pipeline.

Yet here I am today – speaking at this Convocation, taking three AP classes and a dual enrollment class. For the past two years I’ve finished the school year with a 3.6 GPA and I’m still working to improve this.

Each and every single student has the same potential and can overcome obstacles, if they have the support they need to topple adversity. When supported by people who see their potential to succeed, every single student can achieve and defy the odds against them. Every student has the potential to become a success – but only if all of you can help reach out and support them. Without the support of the education system, students must face obstacles on their own. They become less positively engaged with the school and don’t relate to education due to the lack of structural support they need to succeed.

This isn’t the Holyoke way. This isn’t how we treat our students. We need to give all of our students a key to success whether their poor, rich, black, white, Latino, or anything in between.

The idea of a “one size fits all” education can no longer exist within our district. We need to personalize education and adapt to the needs of our students. As a student I spend almost 1/3 of my day within these walls so why wouldn’t I be supported as someone who can succeed within this time frame? Outside of this time frame students go home to different circumstances and we need to learn to adapt to them not having them adapt to us.

Every student has a key to success so we need to refrain from thinking that they don’t. We need to believe in them and see them as the emerging leaders that can be. In six days school starts and in six days we need to the support that students need. We need to stop them from withdrawing, to include them, to guide them, to listen to them, to give them opportunity, to care for them, to go above and beyond for them, to help them succeed, but most importantly we need to be there for them.