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From Ghana to America to College: Matilda’s Story

From Ghana to America to College: Matilda’s Story

matildaDuring a recent visit to the Chicago Math and Science Academy (CMSA), I had the opportunity to talk with 12th grade student Matilda Patterson. In the interview excerpt below, Matilda discusses her favorite opportunities she’s had at CMSA and her plans after graduation.

Q: What do you like about attending your school?

I like the fact that the teachers here are so welcoming. That wasn’t necessarily the case in other schools I’ve attended. They know your name, your strengths and weaknesses, and how to work with you on things you need to improve.

Q: What is your school culture like?

The school culture is diverse. It’s very family-like. I’ve discovered so many cultures being here.

I used to be in the Ivy League Mentoring Program (IMP)—a mentoring club that helped with extra ACT practice. We got partnered with a teacher, and after school and ACT practice, we would go with our mentor to reflect on stuff we learned in class. Even though participating in IMP meant giving up my Saturdays, I feel really lucky to be part of IMP.

Q: How did your family find out about CMSA?

My family is from Ghana, and we first came to America in Boston, and then we transferred to Chicago. My dad wanted me in any school because we had had a three month lag in our schooling during the move. Then we started hearing about charter schools. Family friends talked about CMSA. We were very lucky because CMSA had a mid-year spot open and we’ve been here ever since (Matilda has younger siblings who also attend CMSA).

Q: Who is your favorite teacher and why?

The band director; she is like a second mom to me…beyond just a teacher. To be honest, she knows me to the brink. She knows when to be strict like a teacher, and when to be there for her students. The band family is very strong.

Q: What is the coolest thing you’ve learned this year?

It has a lot to do with self-discovery: don’t care what others think and be yourself. Everything is easier said than done. When I came to America, from Ghana…my accent was hard to get over. My replies were slow and I had a hard time understanding other people. This made it hard for me to fit in…I participated in a ton of clubs to interact with people and learn American slang. I kept myself busy every day before I’d go home to do homework. Junior year, I took college classes, and I took a speech class just to practice speaking…Senior year so much has happened that has affected me so much, looking back, I could have believed in myself more.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

I will attend Wittenberg University (Springfield, Ohio) this fall, and I want to major in health science or engineering and minor in business.


This story is part of an ongoing series in the month of June highlighting the success of charter school graduates and schools across the country. Click here to view the latest from #30DaysOfGrad.

Nora Kern is Senior Manager of Research and Analysis at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools

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