High school students discover ‘a better way to learn’

Rose Kirk, president of the Verizon Foundation, speaks to students in the Summer Technology and Entrepreneurship Immersion Program, held at Fordham University this summer.

Rose Kirk, president of the Verizon Foundation, speaks to students in the Summer Technology and Entrepreneurship Immersion Program, held at Fordham University this summer.

As the students in Verizon’s Summer Technology and Entrepreneurship Immersion Program engaged in a series of enunciation exercises with Gabelli School of Business faculty member Clarence Ball, the president of the foundation that made the program possible stood to the side in the classroom and smiled.

Beginning with tongue-twisters such as “Unique New York, New York is unique,” the high-schoolers ended with Ball leading them in reciting Invictus, William Ernest Henley’s inspirational poem about courage in the face of extreme odds.

Rising to a crescendo, the students finished:

I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

That impressed the Verizon Foundation’s Rose Kirk, who then drove home the lesson as the program wound to a close last week: The more than two dozen students present were in charge of their lives, and they should never give up that power.

The students, most from distressed urban areas, were brought to Fordham for the three-week program, funded by a Verizon Foundation grant and administered by university faculty and staff. The classes the teenagers took stressed coding, social entrepreneurship, presentation skills and other technology fields. The students lived in a dorm on the Rose Hill campus and had an intensive schedule of classes, corporate visits and other exercises.

For Zariyah Faulk, a 16-year-old at Wilbur Cross High School in New Haven, Conn., it was eye-opening.

“I was expecting a smaller group, and I was expecting core classes … not really engaging with each other,” Faulk said. “For me it was a better way to learn.”

For more photos of the program, click here.

Following Ball’s opening, an impressed Kirk strode to the center of the room, greeted the students and told her own story, as an African American woman who applied herself in school, made smart decisions about her future and worked her way up to an executive position in one of the largest telecommunications companies in the United States.

One of the keys to her success, Kirk said, was a no-nonsense sixth-grade teacher in her Arkansas town who expected more from her than anyone ever had and made her believe she could deliver.

“What she told me was, ‘You have potential, but you need to show up and be prepared. No one had ever told us that we had potential and that we had to show up and be prepared,” Kirk said. “She spent that whole academic year not only teaching us the things we had to learn … but she taught us who we were.”

Believing in yourself, Kirk said, is the first challenge.

“Second thing I had to do was quit blaming everybody else and come to understand that I had to own my own mistakes,” she said.

Some of the students in the program were most excited about the classes that, like Kirk’s sixth-grade teacher did, taught them about themselves.

“I got to learn how to speak properly, with gestures. I got to know people better and live in a dorm and live in a community and work together to solve issues,” Faulk said of her time at Fordham.

Faulk’s class with Ball, where she was taught communication skills, was her highlight. But she also learned that, overall, there were people willing to get in her corner.

“You may not know something for that moment, but [if you] keep pushing to learn, you’re going to get it,” Faulk said. “And people around you will help you … They can be like your spine, just to help you learn and understand.”

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