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Polly Spain, Pathways to Graduation teacher

New York Teacher
Polly Spain
Erica Berger

Polly Spain is a teacher in the Pathways to Graduation program, working at Brooklyn’s Marcy Hub, where she prepares students to earn High School Equivalency diplomas.

What is the Pathways to Graduation program? 

Pathways to Graduation helps students obtain their High School Equivalency (HSE) diplomas. The program is located in all five boroughs and is part of District 79, the district for alternative programs. It focuses on students ages 17 to 21 who have needs other than obtaining credits. Some may have been incarcerated or in foster care or group homes, some are homeless, some have just arrived in the country. This is a second chance for them. 

Why choose Pathways over a traditional high school? 

We have a great support system: social workers, school counselors, someone who deals with immigrants. We consider every student our responsibility even if they’re not assigned to us. And we take a holistic approach to education. We provide workshops for parents and family members. We look at our resources and find the best way to serve each student. We help them apply for health care and register to vote. We help immigrants get their paperwork. We guide homeless students to organizations that can help them find a place to live. We fill in the gaps.

Describe a day at Pathways. 

In the morning, students take classes in the five content areas on the TASC (Test Assessing Secondary Completion) exam: English language arts, writing, math, social studies and science. In the afternoon, some go to jobs at medical or dental practices, offices and stores. Others choose to do internships, take electives such as the bicycle repair program at the Marcy Hub, or attend Co-op Tech in Manhattan to get certified in trades. In addition, social workers teach them life skills, including parenting skills because some of our students are parents. We believe it’s important for students to take ownership of their education. We want it to be an adventure, something they enjoy. 

How long are students in the program? 

Some are only there for 10 months. We’ve had 17-year-olds with a zero to 3rd-grade reading level, and it can be three years before they take the HSE exam. We’ve also had students who are afraid to move on because they feel safe in the program. 

What is your role at the Marcy Hub? 

I am the SETSS provider. I teach every level in every subject. I work with the content area teacher and support those students who have IEPs to make sure they master the skills necessary to help them migrate to the next level. 

What are the challenges during COVID-19? 

Having internet access was the main challenge when we first shut down because a lot of our students have financial issues. Staying connected is also a challenge and some students are depressed because they’re not able to interact. It’s all about communication and letting them know we are here for them. 

Is there anything positive about remote learning? 

Enrollment has increased, not just at our site but citywide. A lot of our students have jobs, and remote learning has provided them with the flexibility to pursue their HSE and still work. 

What is the most rewarding part of your job? 

Students may come into the program broken, but they leave with a sense of hope and a sense of purpose. I had a young lady who wanted to commit suicide. But she went to college, got her degree and is now a detective in the NYPD. I also had a student from Jamaica who couldn’t read. But he loved books and I worked with him to build up his reading level. In two years, he got his HSE, then went to college. Today he’s a physician. It’s so rewarding to see them blossom and grow and discover who they are and what they are good at. 

— As told to reporter Suzanne Popadin

Related Topics: What I Do, Pedagogy