“In elementary school, I was not doing good. I never wanted to go to school,” said Yordy Estevez, an eighth grader at Kirby Middle School. “But at Kirby, it’s different–it’s so fun to be here. I love coming to school. My parents love this school now, too.”
When the Achievement School District invited Green Dot Public Schools to help transform the lowest performing schools in Memphis in 2014, there were thousands of students like Yordy who didn’t see school as a safe or compelling place. Four years later, Green Dot operates five schools in Memphis, four of which are turnarounds like Kirby, and all of which are seeking to unearth the joy of learning for Yordy and his peers.
Yordy credits his newfound love for school to the people at Kirby–both staff and students. “The whole staff is funny, and my friends here are really cool. All the teachers at Kirby are nice, they help you and provide you with the knowledge you need to succeed.”
“In elementary school, I was not doing good. I never wanted to go to school. But at Kirby, it’s different–it’s so fun to be here. I love coming to school.” — Yordy Estevez, eighth grader at Kirby
In one example of such support, Yordy talks about his science teacher, Jayde Bryson: “One time, there was a week I wasn’t feeling good at all. I didn’t want to be at school or be around people. Ms. Bryson noticed and made sure to make me laugh and help me out.”
He specifically enjoys his English teacher, Michael Linder. “Mr. Linder is the funniest person you’ll ever meet in your life. He’s the coolest–he teaches you everything you need to know, repeats things, and breaks things down so you can understand them,” said Yordy. Mr. Linder is tying current events into his lesson plans to help students engage what they hear and see on the news. “We’re working on a thesis statement in his class right now. We’re writing about if guns should be legal, and Mr. Linder is teaching us how to provide evidence for what we think.”
Christopher Newson, Kirby’s Assistant Principal, credits the strong staff and student culture to Principal Deadre Ussery. “Ms. Ussery and the rest of our leadership have established a culture of excellence and accountability: teachers care, work hard, and support students. [The staff] is pretty well-synced, and students know that they’re adequately supported and very much loved regardless of what the team member’s role is–from counselors to office workers and teachers.”
In addition to the strong relationships Yordy has at Kirby, there are a number of available opportunities that really excite him. “The sports are really good here,” said Yordy, who plays football, baseball, and soccer at Kirby. “I really like football because it pushes me to work harder, know my plays, and not get hurt.” But Yordy says that’s not all: “They’ve got so many activities– all the sports, cooking class, gardening class, and tutoring. We even built and programmed a robot this year in science – it could move and pick stuff up!”
While Kirby has created an infrastructure that supports students in every way possible, Newson also credits Yordy for his hard work and growth: “Yordy is very mature and well-rounded. He’s wise beyond his years, and he’s a great student.” Yordy’s shift in perspective about school and his future continues to surprise and excite him. He says enthusiastically, “Yes, I want to go to college! At first I didn’t want to because I thought it would be a waste of time, but when I came to Kirby they talked about getting a better job with college. And our motto is college, leadership, and life. So I’ve got to go!”
“Yes, I want to go to college!” — Yordy
Next year, Yordy will head off to high school, and then wants to stay close to home for college. Lucky for Yordy, Green Dot’s Bluff City High School is just across the street! Yordy’s story is, in many ways, a reflection of our mission at all Green Dot schools, and particularly at our transformation schools: to meet students exactly where they are, provide them with the supports they need, and put them back on the trajectory toward greater opportunity. As we continue to reflect on what it means to transform public education, we can’t help but think about Yordy’s smiling face as he enters school–a place he used to dread, and now greets with optimism and hope.