STILLPOINT Archive: last updated 12/07/2012

Joyful Rigor: A Dream Realized for an Alumna on a Mission

By John Dixon Mirisola '11

Somewhere in the South Bronx, there is a classroom full of third graders who understand what Golden Goose is. When these kids close their eyes, they see themselves studying by the fireplace in Jenks; they imagine wandering through the woods surrounding Coy Pond.

They have written a chant about our fine New England institution.

“They’re obsessed with Gordon College,” says their teacher, Aleah Tarnoviski ’12. That’s because Tarnoviski’s New York City charter school, Success Academy, stresses the importance of getting kids to think about college early and often. Each classroom at this school—part of a network of 14 Success Academy charter schools in New York City—learns about the college its teacher attended. As a result, students come to personally identify with the institution and begin to project a college education into their own future.

Aleah, who made the unusual jump straight to a job as lead teacher after graduating in May, takes special delight in knowing that her students consider themselves Gordon College Class of 2026.
The 14 Success Academy schools serve low-income, typically low-achieving districts in the New York City school system. “Your zip code shouldn’t have any weight on what you can achieve,” Tarnoviski says. The results back up her claim. Success Academy’s standardized test scores consistently outrank New York’s state averages, and even beat scores from affluent areas such as Manhattan’s Upper East and Upper West Sides.

College-mindedness is just one aspect of the innovative educational framework at Success, one of the most well-known charter school systems in the country thanks in part to the national buzz created by recent education reform documentaries like Waiting for Superman and The Lottery. The network’s website unpacks six core values that guide the educational process: Agency, Curiosity, Try & Try, Integrity, Others, and No Shortcuts (A.C.T.I.O.N.).

Additionally, Aleah points to another of the school’s maxims: “joyful rigor.” Tarnoviski works hard to infuse a sense of joy into every element of her students’ education, even as she holds them to high expectations. The students embrace learning as an outgrowth of this joy. They cheer—that’s right, cheer—for homework and for tests. And even in the third grade, Aleah’s students understand that they are expected to be accountable for their own education’s success. “We talk to kids like they’re smart. If they don’t understand a word or a concept, we expect them to raise their hands and ask us; our job is to make them feel safe and confident doing that.”

As an education major at Gordon Aleah discovered her zeal for the empowerment that quality education can bring to urban communities. Dialog with professors in her department sharpened her enthusiasm; she learned how and where she could make use of it. “I can go back to my freshman year and trace the education department’s influence in where I am today,” Tarnoviski says. “They sought my development, and they allowed me the freedom to remain completely focused on education reform.”

Now there is a classroom full of third-graders who share Aleah’s feelings about Gordon, and who no doubt also share her appreciation for the teachers working to help their students succeed.

John Dixon Mirisola is a communications specialist at Gordon and a staff writer for STILLPOINT.

NEXT: Fulbright: A Cross-Cultural Year in Ingelheim Am Rhein, Germany


another Aleah