The first thing that strikes you while reading Breaking the Cycle is an embodiment of the phrase “meeting students where they live.” Many of the life stories of students at Dayton Early College Academy (DECA) are told through the students’ own writings—school assignments that don’t run from or sugarcoat lives of poverty, deprivation, abuse, and hopelessness in all their varied ugliness. Dr. Judy Hennessey, superintendent and CEO of DECA, and her team instead turn those experiences into lessons in tenacity and motivation, with notable success. The realities of absent or neglectful parents are dealt with in the contracts signed by adults and students with the school—no parent, no problem—we’ll do all we can to help this child succeed. Any responsible adult (pastor, uncle, grandmother) who will commit to be a partner in and to be held accountable for that child’s success will do. The obstacles to academic achievement for poor urban youth are myriad, pervasive, and no secret to anyone. What makes DECA so special—as Dr. Diggs shows us through her research, spare and insightful prose, and heaping helpings of DECA students and staffers’ own thoughts and words—is that these obstacles can be addressed head on and torn down. The obstacles are replaced with high academic goals, a relentless focus on the future, and the message that students at DECA don’t need to lose the essence of who they are to emerge from their circumstances and succeed. Who they will become is not constrained by where they started—whether that is as close to the bottom as possible (crack-addicted, orphaned, neglected) or not—and the cycle can be broken with eyes wide open and firmly fixed on a future of value.
SOURCE: Nancy Brown Diggs, Breaking the Cycle: How Schools Can Overcome Urban Challenges (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2013).