Zayquan’s Story of Growing Pains and Gains in Middle Grades
Zayquan is a Black college student who grew up in Lawndale. He went to K-8 neighborhood elementary school with a Magnet Cluster program in Lawndale. He defines his 7th and 8th grade years to be his middle grades experience. He is a sophomore studying business management at a private 4-year historically Black college in Tennessee. He plans to go to culinary school after graduation and open a restaurant. On campus, you can find him studying for one of his seven classes or planning a community event through his role at the campus student center. His motto on how he stays focused is “discipline, dedication, and drive.”
Zayquan’s Middle Grades Experience
Zayquan looks back to his middle grade years with a lot of gratitude. He noted one of his pivotal moments of growth was due to the guidance of two of his teachers in 7th and 8th grade. “They were the main two that gave me the tools to become a better person.” Zayquan would finish his work early and be excited to talk with his classmates, which sometimes created tension between him and his teachers. At the end of each year, he actively reflected on areas where he could grow for the next year, and his teachers supported him with feedback. “Our conversations would be like, ‘you’re a great student. You get your work done, but sometimes your temper or like the way you say things comes off in a way that you probably don’t mean, and we can work on it.”
This advice was instrumental in how Zayquan learned to communicate openly with his teachers and see the power of his relationships with his school community. “Looking back, I understand what they mean now that I’m in college.” He learned how to pause before responding and think about the impact and intentions behind a person’s words. He carried this advice throughout high school, along with his 7th and 8th grade teachers’ beautiful encouragement. He vividly remembers them saying, “‘You’re not fully there yet because no one is, but there is always room for improvement. We are seeing your improvement. We love that.’”
“‘You’re not fully there yet because no one is, but there is always room for improvement. We are seeing your improvement. We love that.’”
7th and 8th grade was also a crucial time for Zayquan to practice his time management skills. In 7th grade his teachers started to have stricter deadlines for assignments which pushed Zayquan to be more intentional with his time. He wanted to create space to “make sure my stuff is turned in on time and is done well.” Since then, he has continued to work on managing his time better which has helped him tremendously in his academic and professional career. He advises current students to “get rid of procrastination because the procrastination brain is not your comfort zone. Get rid of it. Procrastination will be the death of your dreams”
One of the most influential moments that led Zayquan to imagine himself in college was through a college fair project he did in 7th grade. Zayquan researched the college his sister was attending and, with the help of his sister, created a poster board with all the information he gathered. Then the school hosted a college fair, where he set up his board in the hallway and presented his college to younger students. “If it wasn’t for me hearing about college back in grammar school, I don’t think I would have gone. I know in high school they push you to go to a college. Still, it was like my sister was in college, and hearing about her experience and learning more about colleges as a whole, it was like, okay, this is interesting. Culinary, college, I can still do both.”
“If it wasn’t for me hearing about college back in grammar school, I don’t think I would have gone. I know in high school they push you to go to a college. Still, it was like my sister was in college, and hearing about her experience and learning more about colleges as a whole, it was like, okay, this is interesting. Culinary, college, I can still do both.”
Growing After Middle Grades
Zayquan knew where he wanted to go for high school even before the CPS enrollment process started. He went to his older brother’s neighborhood high school orientation in South Austin. “It was me and my mom. I will never forget, I was at the orientation, and the principal herself had started talking to me, and she was like, ‘You know what? I want you here at my school. You belong here.’” Zayquan felt honored by the invitation and was excited to go to school and meet new people outside of Lawndale, so he eventually enrolled at his brother’s high school.
In high school, his love for his school community blossomed. “My high school pretty much loved me.” Inspired by his teachers’ guidance in middle grades, Zayquan focused on creating healthy relationships and open communication with his school community. “It was like you learn to communicate with your teachers like what you’re struggling with or what you can help other students with… If you create those bonds with your teachers, you can definitely expect some help in return.” Among his classmates, there was an even stronger sense of community. “Always helping each other with class work, and if somebody missed class on a day like ‘here is the notes for this class.’ We would help each other. And that’s honestly how we all passed, basically helping each other.”
“Always helping each other with class work, and if somebody missed class on a day like ‘here is the notes for this class.’ We would help each other. And that’s honestly how we all passed, basically helping each other.”
In college, Zayquan carries the values of his younger self with him. He feels confident in his communication skills and feels like he can be his authentic self. He continues to prioritize and grow his passion for his community through networking and planning events on campus. Although he is away from his home city, he considers his campus in Tennessee a “home away from home.” However, Zayquan is also excited to graduate with his business management degree and go to culinary school. Since he was little, he has had dreams of going to culinary school and hopes to open his own restaurant.
Zayquan’s Lessons from Middle Grades
- He learned how to collaborate and create positive relationships with his teachers. Thanks to his teachers’ advice he was able to get feedback and tools on how to communicate and carry his emotions, especially around others.
- He realized how to tap into the power of his community. Zayquan created meaningful connections with his teachers and peers, which helped him feel academically and emotionally supported.
- He practiced how to manage his time and meet deadlines. Having stricter deadlines encouraged Zayquan to plan to create space to complete his assignments on time.
Zayquan’s Hopes for the Field
He has a message for current middle grade teachers. “Keep teaching, just keep motivating and the love and support you give with all of your students will come back to you tenfold. I can honestly say that I love my teachers dearly, without them, I don’t think I would have made it this far. They are basically your parents away from your parents.”
Zayquan also hopes that schools have students do a college project similar to his. He believes that a college project can help motivate students to create goals for themselves and to start to explore what they want for their futures.