August 22 — 10:42 am, 2019

Don’t eat the marshmallow: Students from a ‘no excuses’ charter grow up to tell the tale

“I know for a fact that if I went to a different school, I wouldn’t be the same person I am today.”

Jayuana Bullard in sixth grade in 2005 (left) and again in 2019. (Kimberly Paynter/Keystone Crossroads)

Jayuana Bullard sat upright on her bed — in a room wallpapered with lipstick imprints, in a house crumbling from neglect, in a neighborhood known as one of Philadelphia’s most violent.

The thought came easily, like she’d summoned it before.

“I wonder if they felt like they failed somehow,” she said.

They were her teachers from a middle school she’d left more than a decade ago. She not only remembered them, she wanted their approval. Still. All these years later.

“Sometimes I think about it,” she said. “And I wonder.”

Jayuana is 25, an age when middle school is often a distant memory. We may be able to name a teacher or class that still resonates. Perhaps we had some social awakening as we passed from childhood to adolescence.

Few of us probably see our lives as a referendum on the people that taught us in middle school.

Not Jayuana.

“As far as my character, as far as me figuring out how to get things done and figuring out how to treat people on a daily basis…Me as a human?” she said. “They played such a big role.”

There’s not a statistic, a data point, a concrete, measurable outcome in Jayuana’s life that would lead you to this conclusion.

But, when you talk to talk to Jayuana and hear the plain conviction in her voice — you know it.

So what was this school?

It was one of Philadelphia’s first ‘no excuses’ charter schools. And the students were like guinea pigs in an intense educational experiment, one designed to alter lives and, crucially, measure whether it worked.

A dozen years after the school’s first class graduated eighth grade, the students are now in their mid 20s. We caught up with Jayuana and 32 of her former classmates. Some who made it to graduation, some who didn’t. Some who praise the school, others who abhor it.

Read the rest of this story and listen to the podcast at WHYY News

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