Last week, CNN presented a segment on Caroline James, a former foster child from Montgomery. Against great odds – only 2% of foster children graduate from college – James is on track to graduate from the University of Alabama this spring with a double major and a 3.8 GPA.
For the first eleven years of her life, Caroline James was abused and neglected by her drug-addicted father. She would often miss school to take care of her siblings, and she had to teach herself and her brothers how to read. Her life turned around when she was taken into foster care, and then recruited by the Montgomery magnet school Booker T. Washington (BTW).
In an interview with Montgomery Advertiser’s Annie McCallum Bitter, James traced much of her success back to one great teacher, BTW’s Foster Dickinson. “He immediately zeroed in on me,” said James. “He knew where I came from and I think he knew I was lazy. I was accustomed to being the smartest in the room. He wanted me to get in there and work for the things I needed to work for.”
James’ success story also shows how important it is for schools to set high expectations for student achievement. James pointed to her magnet school’s challenging coursework as another reason for her success. Because BTW required a “higher level of output” from students, she had to work hard to rise to the challenge.
If exposed to excellent teachers, rigorous standards, and effective school leadership, every high school student can graduate ready for college and work.