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Student Profiles

Kayla Thomas and Bryan Williams

Kayla Thomas and Bryan Williams
Ambitious, eager, and resilient are some adjectives that describe Kayla Thomas and Bryan Williams, two students who attend the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ) Promise Academy.  Kayla and Bryan, both from the Bronx, NY, are enrolled in the Bard Early College at HCZ Promise Academy. The early college allows students to take a liberal arts college course of study and earn tuition-free college credits from Bard College concurrently with their high school studies. Kayla, a Junior in high school, and Bryan a Sophomore, each have been at HCZ Promise Academy for majority of their academic careers. Now, with graduation on the horizon, they have decided to prepare themselves for success in college by enrolling in the early college program. They each attest to the ways in which the Bard Early College has changed their perspectives on their education, the world around them, and their future goals.  

Before entering the Bard program, Kayla and Bryan, like many high school students, were able to successfully maneuver through class materials without putting in much effort.  Being in the Bard program challenged that habit, causing them to increase their academic ambitions and take great pride in the work they produced. “Before, if I had homework I would say, ‘I’m going to bust this out, I know I’m going to get 100’; with Bard it was like, ‘65, what’s that?’ So I took my time. And then I realized, this is actually work I can produce, I really have to work for my grade,” Kayla explained. Bryan added, “In English Language Arts (ELA) class we never had intimate conversations like those in the Bard program, and when we did, we only touched the surface. The work for regular ELA is easy, I don’t have to pay attention in class. At Bard I have to constantly be attentive.”

Kayla and Bryan’s ability to surmount academic obstacles and persevere made their successful completion of the pre-college courses all the more rewarding. Kayla described the academic struggle and long hours of work she had to put in, and the value she ultimately saw in the education, beyond the tuition-free college credits. “Before, I thought I’m just getting an associate’s degree. Now it’s like, wow, I can speak to adults, challenge them, and use these new words…I like that feeling. It feels more earned.” Bryan had a similar experience: “At first I thought Bard was going to look good on my transcript. Then Bard broadened my horizons – certain texts I didn’t expect to read, or conversations I didn’t expect to have, or for my writing to improve. All these skills I’ve learned at Bard.” Kayla and Bryan have both finished the pre-college program and will begin college courses this coming fall.

The Bard program challenged Kayla and Bryan academically, which impacted their performance in their traditional high school classes. As Kayla explained, “I became more focused and entitled to actually do my work, so my grades in other classes have improved.” Instead of rushing to complete assignments, she prefers to get work done thoroughly, and she takes pride in the work she hands in. Teachers on multiple occasions have told her they have noticed improvement in her performance. For Bryan, there was “a domino effect. Everything else falls in place because I’m doing better in the Bard program. Before, my highest grade in math was a 65, and I wasn’t interested in doing the work. Now my math score increased… because I was more focused in the Bard class.”

Thriving in the Bard program, as Kayla and Bryan are, would be difficult without the support of certain faculty. Both students highlighted that having extended access to Dr. McMorris, the program’s Academic Director, helped ensure their success. “When I was slacking, Dr. McMorris told us, if you want to be a Year 1 [college] student, you have to pass, and slacking is not an option…During lunch, after dinner, you’re able to contact Dr. McMorris anytime. We are able to text or email her.”

Bard has made a huge impact on Kayla’s and Bryan’s perspectives and goals. Kayla expressed that Bard has challenged her in numerous ways, allowing her to grow and revealing room for further development. “I feel like I’m not at the top yet, but I’m happy. I’m there, but I’m not there, I’ve still got some time. I’m waiting for that.” Bryan emphasized that Bard has truly been an eye-opener, “Before going into Bard I had the perception that everything was the same. When you get accepted into Bard you realize everything is not the same, you have to approach things with different perceptions and perspectives. I have an open mind, I’m able to do things better and view things differently.”

After graduating from Promise Academy and the early college program, Kayla hopes to attend Syracuse University and is interested in therapy and law as potential career paths. Bryan’s dream school is UCLA, and he is interested in majoring in neurology. He is also an avid football player, and is interested in a career in professional sports or medicine.