The people and voices of RePublic Schools.

"Sometimes people think that just because they can't figure out an answer, that means they are not smart. But my teachers told us that everyone has malleable intelligence, and that everyone can grow and develop their brain over time to do anything."
"Delilah - what I love about you is that you are always laughing. You are always happy, and positive."
"Jayden - what do I like about you? Well, you are awesome. You do the right thing even if there is not a rule about it."
"Do you feel like Liberty is like a family?"
"Yes. Nobody really judges us for anything - how you look, where you're from. If I need something, I know I can go to people here. We don't laugh at each other. Actually, we encourage each other - we tell each other to read more, if we are at a low Lexile level. If you need help in math, you tell them so they can help you. They support you in whatever you are doing."
"Who's 'they' - your teachers, or your friends?"
"Everybody - your teachers and your friends."
"I like learning because it helps me express myself. I'm passionate about learning, because learning is the key to making your life better, and growing up to be a good person. It also helps me teach my brother. He is five, and growing up, and I want to share my experiences with him and help him, too. We do his homework together, and go over it. He sometimes writes his letters backwards, and sometimes I get frustrated, but in the end, I love him and I always care for him."
"I like that the teachers at Nashville Prep go out of their way to help me when I struggle, and that they care about getting us ready for college. I have five siblings. My oldest sibling is 21, and my youngest is about to turn 10. One of them goes to UCLA in California - they are in their second year. I don't always love the amount of homework here, but it helps me because I know I need it to practice. My grades are much better now than when I was in elementary school. When I graduate, I want to follow in my siblings' footsteps."

"How so?"

"Well - I'm gonna go to UCLA."
"I think I can change the world in rethinking how the government runs and operates. There are a lot of places in the world that need help - and seeing what is happening makes me want to take action."
"On your toughest days, why do you keep fighting the fight?"

"I've never been a quitter, and so even if I wanted to, that would never happen. To quit doesn't even pop up in my mind when I think about the children - there is just so much that we can do. Nobody quit on me. And I see so much potential in them, that others might not see. When I see that, I ask myself the question: 'How can I not show up and fight the hard fight?' It's all for them."
"One of my librarians recommended I look into Nashville Prep, and I thought it would be a great place to go. I felt honored that she did all this work to help me get here."

"Why do you think she did that?"

"Well, I'm friends with the librarians. I feel like it's important to be nice to the people who are helping in the community, and they are doing a really important service. So I go there, I'm nice, I help around the library, I talk to them, tell them about what is happening at school. When I'm fourteen, I'm going to start officially volunteering there. They've done a lot for me - I've had overdue books and stuff, and I never would have been able to check anything out, but they would sometimes take the fines off and let me check out books again because they wanted me to read. And they helped me find Nashville Prep. So in a way, I owe it to them to pay it forward."

"Are you happy they helped you find NP?"

"Yes. Nashville Prep provides challenges and makes things more difficult for me - I like that moment of recognition where it's like 'oh snap - that was hard work, and I just figured it out by myself, without any help at all.' It feels great - it's a really good thing. My other school was an awesome school, but I didn't feel challenged like this."
"It is amazing how hard our kids work - and we have really high standards. They're like, 'We'll meet them. Show us how.' And I've been teaching a while! It's not like this is my first year in the classroom - it's something about THESE kids. I taught high school for six years, and I can't tell the difference between our eighth grade kids and my high school students. They are so driven sometimes that I forget how young they really are. It makes me want to work harder. Sometimes I'm tired. And sometimes I feel like I am doing as much as I can. And then I see a kid who is putting in all these extra hours, who is calling me every night to get help, who is doing everything they can - and it makes me question whether I am really doing everything I can, and ask what more I can do. It this kid - rather, if the majority of our kids - are willing to work that hard, then I can be working harder, too."
"Well, when I grow up, I want to be an emergency physician. First, I'm not scared of blood or anything - but it also just interests me that people, at one point in time or another, need help. And sometimes they don't get the help they need. I've always thought I need to do something that helps other people, but I also like to study a lot. I know that if I want to be a doctor, I'll get to do both. And you get your reward at the end of the day, because you feel like you've made a difference."
"My dad and I have the same name. I like that because I think it really suits both of us. And it's the same name as my grandpa, too. We moved here in 2011. My dad came here because he had a programming job. We didn't really know which school I should go to, so he chose to put me in NACS. I love it here - I really like the computer programming because it is awesome and I've learned a lot. I'm always around computers, and I want to know how things work, how to make things, and all that. This is probably going to be most of my future, working on computers - I don't really know what exactly, but I know I want to do something with computers. Probably because of my dad. He's a really important role model for me."
"This job is hard. There are rough moments. But then a kid will just do something totally amazing, and you remember why you do this - why you stayed up late to edit that lesson plan. The other day, I was feeling very behind. And then I had a conversation with kids about why they wanted to go to RePublic High School. Just hearing them, at such a young age, be able to articulate what they want for themselves and their futures, reminded me why I do this job. They already know, 'I want to be an engineer - but I haven't decided whether I want to be a civil or mechanical engineer.' Just really specific goals for their futures. Or kids who genuinely want to know how to do a problem, and who will stay after school with me on a Tuesday, and will work, and work, and work, until they get it. Some of them have still not seen success, but they're like, 'Yep, okay - let's do this.'"
"In reading, I wouldn't even annotate my passage. I would just read it and go straight to the questions. But now I have my highlighter and my pencil, and I highlight key details and then I write what I think, in my own words, in the margins. This helps me because when I have questions like finding the main idea, or the best concluding sentence, I can just pull it out of my notes."
"What do you like about Nashville Prep?"
"What I like about Nashville Prep is the education - the teachers, and how much fun they are. Everything about it - I love it. The education is great. I learn lots of things here - it's just a really good influence on me."
"My family? We are from Guatemala. It's just me and my brother - I'm the oldest. He is 10, and goes to Nashville Academy of Computer Science. He really loves computers and technology. He is very excited about things like this, and he's really enjoying it so far."
"Hablas español?"
"[Laughs] Si. It's certainly helpful to know. There are some people here in this country who don't know English, and only speak Spanish. They may need help, and this means I can help them."
"We take small things seriously, but we don't allow bullying here. It creates a culture where we are like a family. We have more friends here, and both your friends and teachers see when you are upset, and check in to make sure that you are okay. I'm happy to come here because I know what I am capable of, and that I can do even better in the future than I already am."
"I've been working on an application for Vanderbilt. It's for a four-year program, throughout my high school experience. The application process feels a lot like what I think applying to college will be like. You have to write essays, and you have to meet a deadline. I really enjoyed my previous experience at Vanderbilt Summer Academy - I was there the summer before 8th grade. The courses were mostly related to science - I studied protein therapeutics. It was about proteins, and how they work in your body. What they look like, how they are structured."
"What pulled me into teaching? An education is the start to everything. There is an endless list of problems we need to solve as a nation, but the foundational thing that is missing is universal access to a great public education.
Think of all of the opportunities that have been missed - all of the people who could be changing the world right now - but aren't, because they did not have access to a great education. I think about how exciting it would be to play a part in opening those doors for people, doors that are so often shut simply because of the circumstances into which someone is born."
"When I grow up, I want to be a teacher because I want to help kids learn about life - and other stuff. I want to be able to help kids who may not understand things. I believe I can change the world by making a promise that I will help increase the chances of any kid to grow up, make it to college, and become anything they want to be.
Before I came to Liberty, I was not very happy with myself in school, and was not satisfied with the way I was learning. Now, as an 8th grader, I feel really confident in every subject, and just want to keep improving all of my grades."
"My mom is awesome because she makes sure I have what I need to be successful. She is so supportive of me. She takes me to the places I have to go to dance, even if they are far - like Ohio. She gets me books so I can read - like right now, I'm reading Harry Potter."
"How have you changed since having been at Nashville Prep?"

"I know I have so - SO - much more potential than I ever thought possible. I know I'll be praised for being smart, rather than criticized."
"I admire that Catherine raises her hand a lot in class. Even when a question is hard, she still pushes herself to answer the question. Even if she is wrong, she will learn from her mistakes, and raise her hand the next time. This shows that she has a lot of grit."

"And as a person, Cielo is inclusive. If she sees that someone is sitting alone at lunch, she will turn her chair sideways to include that person, so that no one feels left out."
"When I grow up, I want to be a criminal lawyer, go to the University of Oxford, Harvard, or Princeton, and then start a law firm in New York, or Manchester, England. In high school, I'd like to win an award for participating in Model UN or debate."
"When I grow up, I want to be a lawyer, or a scientist. I'd like to find a cure for Ebola, and also be the first African American women President."
"The bond I have with these kids is really unlike anything I’ve ever known. I love to watch them grow, to see that I’m making a difference in their lives, and to see that they are enjoying the learning process…It’s my job to get them caught up, so no matter what I have to do, that’s what I’m going to do to get them there. I know there are setbacks, but I want to be the teacher that they remember when they are older – that they say, ‘You know who really gave me a chance and opened a door for me? Ms. Crew – she sat there and believed in me.’

Maybe they didn’t realize it at the time – but everyone has that teacher that they know, looking back, went above and beyond because they believed that you could do it, even when you didn’t know yourself."
"Tell me about a teacher that inspires you."

"It's not just one teacher - all of my teachers do. They try their hardest to push me, so that I can do my best, and do my part for my team. My teachers and I are connected - we have a bond. When I need something, they help me, and when they need something, I help them. The teachers here at Nashville Prep will help you with anything. I work my hardest so that they can be happy."
"I'm a dancer."
"You are? What type of dancing?"
"Ballet - I'm on pointe. I dance after school every single day. Dancing helps me build grit, like Nashville Prep. Both teach me I have to work hard to reach my goals, and I have to put in the time to do it. Even if I am sick. Once, I had a very bad cold. I wanted to dance so badly, and I wanted to go to school so badly, that I begged my mom until she let me."
"Art to me is like an escape - I can draw amazing characters with unbelievable backgrounds, and experience the world through the eyes of the characters I draw. All of my characters have their own stories, and no character is the same - so each is very unique. Nothing is perfect, and everything has its ups and downs, but each of my characters is unique, and therefore, in their own way, perfect."
"What do I want to be when I grow up? I want to be a person who is independent...Someone who knows what she wants in life, and who will fight to get there. My goal for the future is to change the world from the inside out - to change people, and make them believe in a better tomorrow.
When you enter Liberty, you feel important. You feel like you can actually do something, for a change, and have fun doing it. As soon as teachers enter the classroom at Liberty, they say 'I am here for you. And I will not leave this classroom until you get that.'"
"My junior year in college, I decided I wanted to wholeheartedly pursue education. I went to an event that discussed educational inequity in this country - and this was a huge reality check. I had never taken a step back and thought about what had gotten me to where I was. I'd never thought about how, had it not been for my Ms. Blankenship, for all those people who went above and beyond for me in the classroom, no matter where I came from, or who I was - had it not been for them, I don't know where I would be now. It hit me that hundreds of kids, thousands, millions of kids are in this same situation, and that this is happening across our country...It hit me in this moment that I had a very unique opportunity to be that Ms. Blankenship for another student, to be that person who changes someone's mind about what they can do with their intellect, hard work, and grit. I knew I needed to be - and wanted to be - an educator. Not only to give back to my community, but also to make a difference in the lives of our next generation of leaders. If we are not investing in the leaders of tomorrow, then what are we doing? I feel like that, in and of itself, is my calling."
"If I could capture you in a picture doing the thing that most represents who you are as a person, what do you think you would be doing?"

"Liberty is helping me because it is giving me more opportunities to develop my talents, and it is keeping my eyes on the prize: a full ride to Harvard University!"
"I think I will be very successful in college. I am very engaged in my work, and I just have this urge to learn - this confidence - that I am going to make it."
"What motivates you?"
"If I work hard now, it impacts my future. Maybe my job, or where I will go to college. I want to go to MIT - which is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I want to study computer science. I know it's far away, but I think it will do a lot of really good things for me."
"Wow. That's one of the most competitive schools in the country."
"Oh, I know. I will just try my best, and I'm going to do it."
"What do you think your mom feels about where you are right now in your life and where you're headed?" "She probably thinks - well, knows - that I'm on a great path, and that she raised me well. An actual college - Vanderbilt - reached out to ME to invite me to apply to their summer program. I think my mom would be most proud of me because I'm about to be in high school. She wants for me to be successful - and a great all around person."
"Since I teach special education, some of my kids come in with low self-esteem. People have told them over and over again that they are not like everyone else. But no one treats them that way here. They are told they are going to college, and they are starting to believe it – that’s what I love about Nashville Prep, specifically. It ignites in them a fire. They get to a point where they start to say, ‘Okay, I might have to work a little bit harder, but my end goal is the same as everyone else’s in this school.’

On days where I’m dragging, I think of my students. One in particular came in not knowing her alphabet on the first day of school in fifth grade. You can see her growth over there, on the wall – she now knows all her letters, letter sounds. On the third week we were tracking data, she read seventeen words in a minute, which is incredible. I also think about how kind and loving all of my kids are – I only have thirteen, so I spend a lot of time with them. But we call each other the Incredible Thirteen. We’re like a little team in here. They’re always rooting each other on. I feel like if they are rooting for each other, and they are all rooting for me, then I’m always going to root for them."
"I think if you told the average person on the street that a twelve year old could cry because of the amount of growth they've made in reading, or know so clearly why reading is important, and why learning is important, and that they are smart and capable of growing - I don't think they would believe you. But looking at our Lexile results last week was super powerful. I'm thinking of one student in particular - she is still three years behind where she should be, but she has grown two and a half years already, just in four months. When I told her, you could tell she was so excited that she didn't exactly know what to do - 'Should I cry? Should I laugh? I'm kind of nervous because everyone is so excited for me?' I told her we put it in the whole-staff email, and she couldn't believe it.

I think this is a student who, two years ago, would not have thought she was capable of this, or maybe that this was even important. She comes to mind because she asks me every single day what is going on in the books I'm reading - she is very disappointed that I don't like romance novels as much as she does, but I promised I would try one if she would try a mystery. [Laughs] We're working on it. She's been here a year and a half, and just from talking to her other teachers, it's clear to me not only that this is a community that loves her and is helping her to grow, but that she is touching a lot of our lives, too."
"What I love about RePublic is not just how hard every teacher works here, or how hard they are willing to work, day in and day out. What I love is that they are all here for the same reason - and that is to make our kids better, and to give them opportunities they might not have outside our doors. I think what we are doing here is different than a lot of other schools. We give our kids something to believe in, every single day. And we're showing them that little steps of progress amount to something a whole lot bigger."
"Paul Farmer - you know, from Mountains Beyond Mountains - was an awesome doctor, and was willing to sacrifice everything just to help other people. I want to mirror that when I start my career in medicine."

"That's pretty unique for a fourteen-year-old to say. Why is that important for you?"

"I guess I feel like doing this because - if you think about it - what would you do if you were in their situation? If you had no healthcare, and no one really came to help you? What if you had someone who really cared about you like I care? I really want to make a name for myself, to be known as someone who just does a lot of work for those who are less fortunate - but I also want to establish a connection with them. I feel like helping other people makes me feel better also. It helps me find a reason why I'm living in this world."
"To me, the point of education is to set an individual up for a healthy, productive, fulfilling life - and that is what RePublic is doing. These kids could potentially, if not for RePublic, be where my former students in Connecticut were: eighteen or nineteen years old, reading at a second or third grade reading level. That doesn't happen because these kids were bad people, that happens because there are not systems and structures in place to elevate them and set them up for success. And when I see what is being done here, the level of work that is being accomplished by the students here in only the fifth grade - they are being challenged to work with no excuses. And this mindset is really legitimate - from the students, all the way up through the staff.

These kids, if they continue to stick with RePublic, are going to be rockstars in college, and they are going to be completely successful. They will set their own families, and the next generation, up for success. Ultimately, when there is enough of this happening, as schools like these expand, it is going to change social dynamics on a broader level within Nashville and beyond. This is what creates really impactful social change. You don't see a lot of that - there is a lot of acceptance of mediocrity, of lackluster education, of public services and care. Creating something impactful like this takes extremely hard work. It takes extremely focused vision. Things like this don't come together often. And when they do, it is a privilege to be a part of that, and to apply yourself to a movement like this."
"We are all going to the same place in the end. We are all going to college, and, to me, it feels like we are all on this journey together. They're here to support me, and I'm here to support them."
"This job is hard. There are rough moments. But then a kid will just do something totally amazing, and you remember why you do this - why you stayed up late to edit that lesson plan. The other day, I was feeling very behind. And then I had a conversation with kids about why they wanted to go to RePublic High School. Just hearing them, at such a young age, be able to articulate what they want for themselves and their futures, reminded me why I do this job. They already know, 'I want to be an engineer - but I haven't decided whether I want to be a civil or mechanical engineer.' Just really specific goals for their futures. Or kids who genuinely want to know how to do a problem, and who will stay after school with me on a Tuesday, and will work, and work, and work, until they get it. Some of them have still not seen success, but they're like, 'Yep, okay - let's do this.'"
"You know, Liberty is making me turn into a nerd - and I love it."
"I think I can change the world by helping others around me - this is the reason I want to be a doctor. Liberty helped me to see this - they helped me to see that I can change the world. My goals for the future are to graduate from high school, get a scholarship, and graduate from the college of my choice. Liberty is helping me to achieve these by pushing me to work hard, and believe that I can graduate from college. For example, Liberty has helped me improve in math, and I never thought I would be in Algebra 1 this year in 7th grade."
"I'm just proud of my 8th graders - I see so much potential in them. We've been talking, in social studies class, about some of the problems with our government - and I tell them all the time: 'You are the leaders of the next generation. You have the capability to lead us and to help our country become a better place.' And I truly believe that. I think the skills we teach them here, the things they seek to learn on their own, the questions they ask me in class on a daily basis - those are the things that make them special, in my opinion. Nashville Prep didn't make them who they are, but we are guiding them there."
"How would your parents say you've changed since you started at NACS?"
"I think of things more conceptually than I used to. I used to think of simplifying fractions as just dividing them by two. Now I think of simplifying, let's see, seventy-five one-hundredths - into...[pause]...three-fourths. Dividing the bigger fraction by twenty-five."
"Do you know what three-fourths is as a decimal?"
"Well I just learned this today, so I may need a piece of paper at least...[she pauses]...it's 0.75. Seventy-five hundredths."
"Mr. G is a really energetic guy, and my mom told me that there were a bunch of times when he fought for me to be here. When he said 'Let him stay here, let him keep working.' That touches me. I don't know that anybody else had ever really taken that much notice of me. But he let me stay here, and since then, I've only been improving. It's an emotional topic."

"Tell me about the impact this has had on you."

"It makes me want to prove to everybody that I'm not just some kid that came from some messed up environment. I'm trying to be a better person. I'm trying to show them that I can be more than what people think I should be. I'm trying to show them that I can change - and make a difference in - my community."