About The Founder: Taylor Docking
- Taylor Docking graduated Summa Cum Laude, Phi Beta Kappa from Washington University in St. Louis in 2014.
- He joined Teach For America in 2014 as a third grade instructor just outside West Englewood, Chicago.
- In the winter of his second year, Taylor Docking's students attained the highest math and reading growth in the Catalyst Charter Network.
- In the spring of his second year, Taylor's students had grown an average of 2.2 years in reading and 2.0 years in math -- all in a 9 month school year.
- In fall 2015, Taylor launched Project Intersect as a way to move us closer to the day when every CPS student who enrolls in college is attending a school that will support them through graduation.
A Message from the Founder
When I joined Teach For America in 2014 as a third grade instructor, I planned on finishing my two-year commitment and enrolling in graduate school to study literature. Like many corps members, my plans changed after getting to know the children of south Chicago. The 8 and 9 years olds I taught these past two years were authentic, hilarious, and full of energy and curiosity, telling me when I wore the same pants two days in a row, what their parents said the night before at dinner (whether I wanted to know or not), and how they hadn’t been able to sleep the night before because they wanted so badly to know what was going to happen next in the Harry Potter book we were reading as a class. I loved it. I loved them. And I fell in love with the mission to provide them with the best education possible.
This love, more than anything else, is the reason I was successful as a teacher. This year, my students made an average of 2.2 years of growth in reading and 2.0 years of growth in math—all in a 9-month school year. Given this success, I know that my students will be successful in fourth grade and many years after. However, success in fourth grade and fifth grade and even sixth grade has never been the end goal for me as a teacher; I want my students to one day earn a college degree. When I reflect on this latter goal for my students, I become worried.
If you were to meet the high school students I meet every day at my k-12 school, you wouldn’t share my concerns. Many of them serve as parents for their younger siblings, work a job or two while going to high school, and experience, cope with, and overcome myriad unimaginable traumas all while keeping their grades up. They are mature, hard-working, and perseverant beyond their years. The ones I meet who intend to go to college are determined to finish and equipped with character traits rarely seen in seventeen and eighteen year-olds. And yet, nearly half of the Chicago students who go to college drop out and never earn their degree. Over the past two years, I have wondered time and time again why this is the case and what we can do about it.
The students themselves provided me with an answer to this question—the answer that would lead to the founding of Project Intersect. The high school students with whom I regularly interact possess a colorful array of life-experiences, short-term goals, and grand, long-term ambitions. Yet, when I ask these diverse students where they are applying to college, their answers lack even a modicum of singularity. Each student lists the same few nearby state schools and a local community college or two. None of them seem particularly excited about their options, either. Like many other things in their lives, they feel relegated to these schools by virtue of where they have grown up and how much money their parents make.
The greatest shock of all came when I asked these students why they weren’t applying to any small liberal arts colleges, for I thought many would thrive in such an environment. Without exception, the students I spoke with had no idea what a liberal arts college even was. When I took our first Project Intersect cohort to visit a liberal arts college, many of the students were surprised that uniforms were not mandatory at a private college—and this was just one of many misconceptions.
Liberal arts colleges are worth knowing about, though. They graduate students at higher rates than public and for-profit schools, and they give 6 times more financial aid than the federal government. These schools can offer the personalized attention and mentorship many of these students need if they are to finish college. The irony was unbelievably saddening: these low-income students who wanted to graduate from college did not know about precisely the colleges that best support low-income students through graduation.
I started Project Intersect as a way to address exactly this, as a way to create clear pathways for high school students to attend liberal arts colleges. We not only teach students about the unique resources available at small, private liberal arts colleges, but we make it possible for them to attend one. Moreover, the work we are doing stands as a new paradigm for how colleges recruit qualified low-income students. In these capacities, we serve as a fresh, practicable organization on a mission to increase the number of Chicago students who not only attend college, but finish.
Through the creation of these meaningful partnerships I hope to be able to look at my third graders, and all of Chicago’s early elementary students, and rest assured that there are systems in place that will support them through college graduation. Only when that is the case, will I have truly succeeded as an educator.