“Yo, Kamal, who did you get?” At least that’s what I thought Joe asked. That’s what would have made sense for him to say, but I could barely make out his words above the noise of everyone else in the crowd yelling the same thing.
“Don’t know yet! Let me check. You?” I asked only to stall long enough so that I could tear open my own envelope. To my surprise, he yelled back an answer. I was not surprised that I couldn’t hear it.
I caught his eye, and shook my head. Then I spotted a comparatively open spot against the wall and pointed at it with my chin. He nodded understanding, and we made our way over there, jostling everyone else.
“Hey, watch it!” yelled a guy I knew slightly. I had bumped his elbow, and he’d almost dropped his paper.
“Sorry!” I called back. He hadn’t seen me because he’d been holding his paper in the air, trying to catch enough light to read the letters. I glanced up at it.
“Home Depot,” I yelled into his ear.
“Hey, thanks!” he shouted, and struggled off into the crowd. I quickly lost sight of him, and turned back to search for Joe. I saw him wave from where he was leaning against the wall. I nodded at him, and worked my way to his side.
People were headed out through the doors. They had dropped open envelopes all over the floor. I stepped carefully so I wouldn’t slip on them.
“Hey,” I said as I slid in next to Joe. “I know that you said something, but I couldn’t hear you.”
“Apple,” he answered.
“Dude!” I whistled. “Way to go! Your scores must have been off the charts!”
I had forgotten that I still hadn’t opened my envelope, and hurried to tear off one side. I ripped out the paper, then hesitated. What if it wasn’t what I wanted?
Joe grabbed at the paper. “Come on, already.”
I snatched it back. “Let me see. It’s my life.”
I slowly peeled back one edge until I could just make out the name.
“Whoop!” I yelled. I did a fist pump, then a little jig.
“Who? Who?” demanded Joe.
“Man.” Joe was awed. “They started the whole thing. How did you score that gig? Must have been your interest in stats.”
“Whatever. I got it!”
I thought back to the first time I’d ever heard of Selestar. It had been four years ago. I had been nine, then, and didn’t understand all that was going on. I just knew that my world was about to change.
School had never been great for me. Classes were boring. It seemed like every one of my teachers was as bored as the rest of us were. All they did was read to us out of the same book that we had open on our desks. Or they would play some boring PowerPoint presentation, zzzzzzzzing along in the background like some mosquito, annoying us all with their droning.
Mostly we just ignored them, scraping by enough to get through the next pop quiz, the next test. Mainly we just wanted out of that class, hoping that the next teacher would be better, only to find that the next one was as lame as the last.
I only remember one teacher who was better than totally lame. That was my 7th Grade math teacher, Mr. Franklin. That guy was totally awesome. He really knew his stuff. He could answer any question that any of us had, and he WANTED us to ask questions. Where other teachers would just tell us to shut up and listen, he made us figure out the answers to all the problems out loud. He didn’t even care if we helped each other. It was amazing.
Most times, his class was really loud. Everybody was shouting out answers as soon as they got them. And we helped each other figure stuff out. It was the best. When I got to 8th Grade, I was totally stoked about math. Man, that teacher sucked! Made us do lots of problems out of the book, told us to shut up—I was back in regular school. I ended up spending lots of time with Mr. Franklin. I begged him to come teach our class, but he would just laugh and tell me to be patient, that things were about to change.
I’d heard that something was going to happen. Something about businesses and school. It didn’t make sense to me. I just hoped that it didn’t mean that, once I graduated, work would end up being as boring as school. Mr. Franklin was excited, though. He said that it was about time a major change was made. He made the whole thing seem real, like it would happen soon. But it took almost forever before anything did change.
The first thing that happened was that we had to take a test. This was not like other tests. We all had to sit in the cafeteria, and they had what they called proctors making sure that nobody cheated. It took a whole week to take the test.
The test covered everything: Social Studies, Math, Language Arts, Science. They even had a part on Foreign Language that I just ignored. But they also had parts on what they called Mechanics and Engineering, where we had to figure some stuff out. Plus a section on Art, where we could draw whatever we wanted. There was even a part where we had to answer questions about what we liked to do. For a test, it was pretty awesome.
We all talked about the test later. We all said that parts were hard or boring, but just about everybody found something that they knew about. Even the guys who had failed every test in class said that there were parts of it that were not totally uncool.
Then we waited. Nothing happened for a long time. Finally, one day we all started being called in for what they called “interviews”. By this time, all the parents were getting excited, so I was nervous. I knew they’d ask me how I did when I got home. But it went okay. Some grownups just asked me the same sort of things that were on the test, except just the parts that I knew. So that was cool.
Then we waited some more. Mr. Franklin tried to explain it to me again. It made a little bit more sense, now that I’d gone through the test and the interview.
“It’s a whole new world, Kamal,” he said. “The education system in this country has been breaking for years. Everybody knew that. Students were graduating from high school not knowing how to behave in the workplace. They were going on to college without having mastered the basic skills they needed to succeed there. They would graduate from college with massive student loans, and no job. And nobody knew how do the basic skills that this country was built on: construction, engineering, plumbing, those sorts of things that everybody needs, but that we’re not teaching anymore. The question was what to do about it. Finally, a man named Brock Devlin at a company called Selestar came up with a whole new paradigm.”
“A concept of how the world is put together, or how you want it to be put together, Kamal. Mr. Devlin threw out what everybody “knew” about education. He started with the idea that education is supposed to prepare children to participate in society when they become adults. To do that, they need to know some basics about math, the history of their country, how things work, how to speak, and how to deal with other people. They need to know how to behave at work, and how to do what needs to be done.
“More and more, Mr. Devlin thought, schools were falling down on the job. They weren’t teaching kids enough of this stuff. Kids were suffering because they couldn’t get jobs, and businesses were suffering because they couldn’t get the skilled workers they needed. Do you follow me so far?”
“I think so.”
“Mr. Devlin knew what kinds of employees his company needed, and he decided to train them himself. He set up a charter high school that was affiliated with Selestar, and he recruited students to come there. After the first year, every senior graduated. Sixty percent of them went right to work at Selestar, and Selestar gave the rest scholarships to college. Since then, more and more businesses have set up charter schools, and they’re recruiting all over the country. That test you took, and that interview you had, were designed to help make a good fit between you and a company. Wherever you go, the charter school where you’ll go to high school will teach you what you need to be successful at that company.”
And now it had finally happened. I was going to Selestar. I was psyched. I ran to tell Mr. Devlin.
“Thanks for all your help, Mr. Devlin,” I told him. “I’m really going to miss you.”
“Why?” he grinned. “I’m moving to Selestar myself. They’ve been recruiting teachers as well as students. Sorry, Kamal, but you can’t get rid of me that easily. I’ll be there every step of the way, making sure that you do your best, and making me look good. I can’t have one of my prize students not doing well.”
I am so psyched!