Behind the Headline: From Scholarship Student to Charter School Teacher, a Young Man Helps New Orleans Come Back

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From Scholarship Student to Charter School Teacher, a Young Man Helps New Orleans Come Back
New Orleans Times-Picayune | 8/25/15

Behind the Headline
Good News for New Orleans
Education Next | Fall 2015

In the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Danielle Dreilinger tells the moving life story of Gary Briggs, a teacher in a New Orleans charter school.

Growing up on Baudin Street, Briggs experienced every kind of school New Orleans had to offer: independent, Catholic, charter and public, which could also be summarized as good, bad and ugly. New Orleans public schools were the worst in the state. If you didn’t attend a magnet program, you had only the slightest chance of going to college — if you graduated at all.

Briggs attended Catholic preschool and kindergarten, then Lafayette Elementary. The family lived across the street from Crossman Elementary but his mother didn’t like what she saw. Lafayette wasn’t good; his parents felt its teachers let little sister Tori float along without learning key concepts. But it “was slightly better” than Crossman, Briggs said. “When you’re in a working-class neighborhood and you have limited resources you have to settle for slightly better.” They enrolled Briggs in a tutoring program, Summerbridge, to supplement.

In fifth grade, Briggs’ parents enrolled him in New Orleans Charter Middle, New Orleans’ first charter school.  After that he earned a scholarship to Metairie Country Day, one of the area’s most prestigious private schools.

Hurricane Katrina hit a couple weeks into Briggs’ senior year and he and his family evacuated to Houston. After graduating from high school and from Texas Christian University, Briggs returned to New Orleans as a teacher with Teach for America.

Dreilinger writes

Briggs thinks a lot about young people’s dreams and of how the way things in the world have changed. His journey encompasses much of what New Orleans schools and families have wrestled with. The terrible schools that most people just gave up on. The fight of parents to find a good education for their children. The scar of race and class that put whiter, wealthier students above the water line. The radical attempt to change all that, to pull New Orleans’ schools up by the roots. And the great love of New Orleans that has compelled so many young people come back to help write their city’s new chapter.

A new Ed Next article, “Good News for New Orleans,” by Doug Harris, looks at changes in the public schools in New Orleans over the past 10 years.

– Education Next

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