How This Alumni Fostered Self-determination on the Field and in the Classroom


Fairley High School alumnus, Curlandus Smith has always felt driven to become the best version of himself, and he attributes this desire to his love for sports. In high school, Smith excelled in basketball, football, and track and field. As a multi-sport athlete, Smith’s days often began and ended with grueling practices, but he never lost sight of his goal to achieve a college education. For Smith, going to college has always been an opportunity to achieve greater social mobility and make his family proud. “I always knew college was something I wanted to do. When you get a degree you’re predicted to earn more than a person without a degree,” said Smith. “When I obtain my first college degree, it’ll be one of the biggest accomplishments of my life. That’s something I’ve been wanting since I was a little kid.”

Redefining Setbacks

In high school, Smith channeled his passion for sports into his academic pursuits. Balancing school, sports, and a part-time job challenged Smith, but it helped him build resilience and learn new strategies to manage his time. At Fairley, Smith found a group of educators who were committed to creating impassioned learning environments that supported students in reaching their academic and personal goals. Gayla Marable was one of several educators who pushed Smith throughout his high school career. “She always pushed me to work harder. She knew I was balancing sports, work, and school and she worked with me.” Over the years Marable watched Smith grow academically and as a leader. In her Advanced Placement English class, Smith would be the first to raise his hand and would often lead discussions during Socratic seminars. “He was a leader in the classroom and outside of the classroom,” reflected Marable. “A lot of times he would start the conversation and have very thoughtful answers. His leadership in the classroom enabled other students to follow.”

Smith made every minute of his day count, between practice and work he took advantage of teacher’s office hours, Fairley’s after-school academic support, and weekend enrichment opportunities. In his junior year at Fairley, Smith was finding success in the classroom and on the field, he was even scouted by colleges and universities to play football. Only one challenge stood in his way, the ACT, a standardized test used for college admissions. “When I took the ACT I scored a 16 and I was so down,” said Smith. Though he knew the subject material he found it difficult to concentrate and solve the problems. When he received his results he was stunned. At that moment he thought “this isn’t going to work, this isn’t going to get me into college.”


“He was a leader in the classroom and outside of the classroom,”

- Gayla Marable

Smith was determined to improve his scores and achieve his goal of earning a college degree. He sought the support of his teachers and began developing test-taking strategies and addressing the subject areas he struggled with the most on the exam. “His major concern going into his senior year was sports and making sure that he was going to be successful on the ACT,” said Marable. He also joined Fairley’s after school ACT preparation program for additional help. This offering is one of the many ways Fairley removes barriers to student learning and success. “I’d go to ACT tutoring every day. The next time I took the ACT I got an 18, it wasn’t the best score but I kept at it and I kept seeing my scores get better,” said Smith.

He would go on to earn a science score of 23, a reading score of 21, and a math score of 20 on the ACT. Throughout this time, Smith received encouragement and support from his teachers. “The school kept pushing me, so I was like If they're going to keep pushing me to do better I need to push myself too and that's why I kept taking the ACT.” Smith's hard work and determination paid off in 2020 when he committed to playing football at Bethel University.

Nearing the end of his second semester at Bethel University, Smith is grateful for the education he received in high school. “Fairley prepared me for college, and as they say leadership and life. That's one thing that has always stood with me.” Smith is majoring in biology with a concentration in pre-professional health. He plans on pursuing a career in dentistry to help people improve their oral health.

"The school kept pushing me, so I was like If they're going to keep pushing me to do better I need to push myself too and that's why I kept taking the ACT.”

-Curlandus Smith

Smiths’ journey reminds us of the critical role athletic and extracurricular programs play in the success of our students. These programs teach students the value of practice and hard work, nurture their passion, reinforces the idea that practice is valuable, and shows them how to persevere through adversity. Throughout the network, our schools are removing barriers to student success and creating opportunities in the classroom and on the field for students to develop the tools they need to be successful in college, leadership, and life.