Like many parents, Nicole Hambric’s two kids are very different from one another. Her older daughter is a straight A student who did well in traditional public school, but her younger daughter, Jada, never really liked school. She would do just enough to get by, but often struggled to understand lessons the first time and felt rushed by the pace of her classes. Hambric was surprised to learn in May of Jada’s fourth grade year that she might not be promoted to the next grade. She spent thousands of dollars on tutoring to help boost Jada’s academics quickly, but she was angry the school hadn’t communicated with her about Jada’s struggles earlier.
All that changed when Hambric moved Jada to P.S. 89 for middle school and into the Big Picture Learning Academy there. “I saw a complete  in my daughter,” Hambric said. “At one point learning wasn’t her thing and now she loves going to school; she loves learning.” Not only that, but Jada is bringing home better grades. She made the honor roll for the first time ever, and is motivated to continue working to improve.
“I had never seen a 95 test result in all the years she’s been in school,” Hambric said. “Now I see that she’s focused and she has confidence in herself.” Hambric believes the turnaround has come from the Big Picture Academy’s focus on a tight-knit classroom culture, which allows the teachers to focus on individual learner’s needs.
“Each of us are different and we all learn differently,” Hambric said. “It wasn’t that she wasn’t able to understand what she was being taught, it’s just that she needed a different style of learning.”
There are a lot of schools around the country trying to change the educational experience, but often the most visible examples like High Tech High or Summit Public Schools are charter schools, built from the ground up around a shared vision and with the benefit of outside investment. While those schools can serve as inspiration, it’s often hard for educators in more traditional settings to see how they can apply those models in their own classrooms where there isn’t that same shared vision and extra support. It’s easy to see the accomplishments of educators in shiny new schools as out of reach to the average public school teacher.