Blue Engine Fellows Start School

By Nicholas Chan


I’m writing this from Washington
Heights Expeditionary Learning School (WHEELS)
, where our 12
inaugural Blue Engine Fellows
are wrapping up their three-week training. The heat
is sweltering on the non-air conditioned fourth floor of this public school
building, but these folks are beyond intrepid.

Our 12 Fellows come from as far away as California (2,3), as nearby
everywhere in between (
Kentucky, Missouri, South
, Ohio, Massachussetts, Pennsylvania (2), New
). They turned down opportunities at Teach For
America, law school, and the National Institute of Health to work for
a month
(before taxes) in the US’s most expensive city. Their
starts at 7:30am when high school students roll into
WHEELS (where 90% of the students are Dominican and 90% of students are eligible
for free lunch), into the day, into afterschool programming, and into the night
as they prepare for their next 7:30am day. Nearly 200 applicants applied for
the Blue Engine Fellowship and after a lengthy,
3-part application process, these 12 Fellows
will pioneer Blue Engine’s first year.

Blue Engine’s mission is to harness
the power of national service to advance educational excellence and equity – to
help all students, regardless of background or income level, be not just eligible to go to college, but ready to graduate from college on time.
The Fellows are an
integral part of this – as
teaching assistants for all 8th and 9th grade
students, they supplement the work of WHEELS teachers by helping smaller groups
of students master the material. In the future, Blue Engine will expand to
other subjects, grades, schools, and cities, but for now, the program centers
on Integrated Algebra classrooms at WHEELS. Blue Engine’s
of change
is based on evidence that the strongest predictor of
college success is the academic rigor of one’s high school program. You read
that right – your high school program (especially Integrated Algebra, which
often determines whether students continue in higher math) is key to determining
your college future.
Many of our
youth enter college woefully underprepared
. After
struggling in remedial classes (where they receive no credit), many drop out,
several thousand dollars in debt. Blue Engine, with the help of our Fellows,
was founded to meet this challenge head on.

The last stanza of Shel Silverstein’s poem “The Little
Blue Engine
” (where the organization gets its name) reads “if the
track is rough and the hill is tough, thinking you can just ain’t enough”. Some
interpret this line cynically, but Blue Engine believes it has a positive
message. Rather than merely telling students they can succeed in college, hard work
and preparation is required before they even set foot on a college campus.

School starts on September 8th. The Fellows have worked together for
only a little over 3 weeks. But they are clearly up to the challenge of
preparing the youth of WHEELS to succeed in Integrated Algebra and beyond. Follow
their journey through
our website and our Facebook

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