her father and new stepmother. Her
father’s new family made jokes about
her and always pointed out how poor
she was. Her parents worked full-time
and counted on her, as the oldest child,
to care for the house and her younger
siblings. For Terry, doing well in school
was “an outlet to get away from my
crazy, abusive stepmother.” She became
an avid reader because it helped her
escape her harsh home life.
Terry experienced her first pivotal
How To Create Pivotal Moments
moment at the end of junior high school
when her Spanish teacher, Ms. Barrera,
took an active role in trying to get Terry
into a private high school. Ms. Barrera
went above and beyond her role as a
teacher to become Terry’s advocate:
She thought she should try to get me
into either a Catholic school or a private
school, something that would be more
challenging. She took it upon herself
and drove me around to all these private
schools. She would just walk up to the
admissions office and be like, “I have
this student and she’s very smart, and
you need to have her as a student at your
n Ask students about their personal and family lives outside school.
n Provide a safe space for students to express their opinions and concerns.
n Show sympathy and care toward students’ dilemmas and struggles.
Mentor and Advocate
n Provide students with emotional and moral support.
n Hold students to high standards of academic excellence and raise aspirations
n Model behaviors for productive participation in a school community.
n Develop relationships with important and influential school leaders to advocate for students.
Share Academic Knowledge and Skills
n Advise and guide students in making a concrete plan to prepare for college.
n Show students how to use academic and institutional resources.
n Help students become independent self-advocates who know how to seek
help when they need it.
n Coach students on social networking and communicating with adults.
n Teach students how to navigate school processes, such as filling out college
n Promote and guide effective problem solving and decision making.
This was the first time Terry had an
educator reach out to her in this way.
Even though Terry’s parents expressed
concern about the high cost of private
high schools, Ms. Barrera continued
to guide her through the application
process, knowing that she would most
likely qualify for full financial aid.
Although Terry was accepted to her
first-choice private high school, her
stepmother refused to fill out the financial aid paperwork. Ms. Barrera then
made sure Terry attended a public high
school with an accelerated program to
challenge her academically.
Terry’s second pivotal moment took
place in high school when her political
science teacher, Ms. Marks, encouraged
her to apply for a prestigious scholar-
ship to study abroad in Mexico. Only a
few students received this scholarship
each year, but Ms. Marks insisted that
Terry apply. She helped her fill out the
application and wrote her a letter of
support. After Terry was notified that
she had received the award, Ms. Marks
met with her parents and explained
to them that it would be an excel-
lent opportunity. Terry now says that
studying abroad in Mexico was “one of
the best experiences of my life.”
For more on how schools
can provide better college-going
guidance, see the online-only article
“Improving College Counseling” by
Robert Bardwell at www.ascd.org
Terry had a third pivotal moment in
high school with her academic counselor, Ms. Latham, who assisted her
with applying to college. Terry knew
she wanted to go to college, but she
didn’t know anything about the application process. Her counselor insisted she
apply for early admission to Middlebury
College, a highly selective liberal arts
school that specializes in foreign languages. She walked her through every
step of the application process, and
Terry was eventually admitted.
Creating Pivotal Moments
Blanca’s and Terry’s pivotal moments
helped them develop the knowledge,
skills, and dispositions needed to
successfully navigate the education
system. Their stories illuminate the
actions numerous educators took to
change their education trajectories.