All this week we’re sharing the photo essays we created for the New Schools Venture Fund Summit. These stories were shared with 1000 leaders of education reform.
Ask 17-year-old Paris about her greatest worries of the moment, and she will answer you as any promising high-school junior might: she is struggling to balance her daily load of classes and homework with the pressure of AP exams and anxious about having to bring together a year’s learning for a three-hour test.
These have not always been her greatest concerns.
Growing up in what she calls a “rough part” of Newark, shootings were common where she lived, and “fighting was a constant thing.” It wasn’t just outside on the street; three of her four brothers have been in and out of jail for the past 5 years.
Her father’s presence in her life was so inconstant that her last conversation with him took place between cars at a stoplight. She says, “You have a family and they make up an equation, and one piece gets taken out and the whole thing falls apart, and you have to figure out how to fix it.”
The experiences left her exhausted and uncertain of her own direction: “It’s a little bit cooler to be the tough person than to be the smart person,” she says.
After switching schools almost every year, she entered North Star Academy in fifth grade. By the end of the year, she could feel the direction of her life changing. Today, she speaks with fierce determination. “Regardless of what went wrong, I know where I want to go,” she says. “I want people to know who I am. … I have to be somebody. Not even, ‘I want to.’ I have to.”
“That’s something I learned from North Star,” Paris says. “You are not where you’re from. You are who you strive to be.”
Hear the story of how the education reform movement is transforming lives: