By Katelyn Edge
Every student comes to a crossroad on her educational journey. The question is: Who is there to support her?
Shani Edmond began prekindergarten at a neighborhood school in the South Shore community. Her mother noticed by kindergarten that she wasn’t thriving. She lacked focus. She wasn’t developing on-track. In response, in first grade, her mother enrolled her in the University of Chicago Charter School North Kenwood Oakland (NKO) Campus.
Edmond’s progress was slow, but with the supports at NKO, there was a noticeable change. Looking back, Edmond feels fortunate to have had a parent attuned to her educational needs. She believes without the firm support system at NKO she would not have fared well. She said, “Though I was not the best student in my early years, the teachers at NKO were a big motivating factor for me to keep my head as much in the game as I could. They always cared. I feel like many of the neighborhood school teachers are just there to get a paycheck, but the teachers at NKO care about their students, not just academically, but emotionally and socially.”
Middle school is difficult, particularly when the normal pressures of adolescence are heightened by the challenges of growing up on the South Side of Chicago. Edmond entered her middle school years at NKO having grown, but still lacking the necessary focus to be a standout student. However, something clicked for Edmond during this time. And fortunately, there was someone there to turn a spark into a wildfire: Shayne Evans.
At the time, Shayne Evans was an English teacher. He was also Edmond’s homeroom teacher. When Edmond and her classmates met Evans, they thought he was tough. “Mr. Evans made you hate him,” she said. “He let you know how it was going to be. When he heard we weren’t turning in homework in other classes, he would make us give it to him. If we didn’t, he took the time to call our parents. He didn’t let us get away with anything. He stopped us at the door and set us straight.”
Evans set Edmond’s English grade straight. He gave her tutoring once a week before school (in all subject areas, not just in English). Before long, her near-failing grade became solid.
Over early morning mentoring sessions, Edmond began to realize that her dislike for Evans was changing. She realized how much he cared about her and her peers. As she put it, “Mr. Evans makes you hate him so you can learn to respect him. And when you learn to respect him, you come to love him. Mr. Evans turned me completely around. He made me a true student. I no longer like anything but A’s.” When Edmond completed eighth grade at the middle school, she completed it as the valedictorian of her class!
Middle school was the major crossroad for Shani Edmond, though a lot came together to clear her path to success. Her mother placed her on the NKO road. She was eventually diagnosed and treated for ADHD, removing a major roadblock. And with the catalyst of school supports, Edmond developed a desire to do better. But, then, at the perfect time--at that crossroad moment--Shayne Evans stepped in to shine a light on Edmond’s darkest subject area and drove her to push herself to be better.
Today, Shani Edmond is an impressive member of the first graduating senior class at the University of Chicago Charter School Woodlawn Secondary (UCW) Campus, where her former English teacher, Shayne Evans, is now the director.
Edmond said of her former teacher, “When I found out Mr. Evans was going to be director of UCW, I didn’t know what to do with myself! I was so excited! He has already done so much for this school.”
In her entire high school career, Edmond has only received two B’s, and she wrinkles her nose reflecting on them. She still credits Evans as a major support in her academic life.
Edmond plans on attending college in the fall to study film production and cinematography. She is applying for scholarships, and is particularly eager to receive a Posse Foundation Scholarship, which would subsidize her entire tuition. Her dream is to own her own production company with her best friend, a former NKO graduate, Terrence Thompson.
“My experiences in middle school changed me from an average student to an exceptional student,” said Edmond. “Environment is everything. If I hadn’t gone to The University of Chicago Charter School, I feel like I would be a totally different person today.”
After interviewing Shani for this story, she received her letter from the Posse Foundation. She has been awarded a full-tuition scholarship to attend Oberlin College and Conservatory in Ohio!