Saturday, December 17, 2016
Harlem Academy’s first graduating class started college this year. Eager to see how our pioneering alumni were doing, we caught up with Tara Eagan at the University of Rochester.
Tara Eagan grew up in the South Bronx, and through fifth grade, attended a local charter school where she was at the top of her class. One day, the principal called Tara’s mom in to talk about finding an accelerated program that could better challenge her. That’s when they learned about Harlem Academy.
Tara joined the class of 2012 – Harlem Academy’s first cohort of graduates. Like most Harlem Academy students, Tara showed impressive academic growth, gaining 15 percentile points on standardized tests over three years.
By the time she graduated, she was at the 92nd percentile nationwide, respected by her teachers and peers for her focus and hard work. No one was surprised when she earned a scholarship to Grace Church School in eighth grade.
Four years later, as she packed her bags for the University of Rochester, we asked her to tell us about her journey. The conversation centered on building confidence through accepting help and being open to new experiences.
I SEEK HELP WHEN I NEED IT.
This line from the Harlem Academy creed was one of the core things Tara talks about internalizing as she moved on to high school. Grace Church School was a great place for her, but she faced her share of challenges, too. It quickly became clear that she would need to embrace her support networks if she was going to make the best of the opportunities ahead.
“Jumping from Harlem Academy to Grace, it was different,” said Tara. “Harlem Academy was very socioeconomically diverse, racially diverse, religiously diverse, culturally diverse. When I came [to Grace], I wondered if I deserved to be there because I was just so different. I thought because I didn’t have as much money as everybody else, maybe I shouldn’t be there.”
That self-doubt held Tara back at first. But Tara’s advisor at Grace Church School worked closely with Tara’s family and Harlem Academy to help her work through her fears. Soon, she picked up her grades and forged meaningful friendships. Ultimately, she came through stronger and more confident than before, and was grateful that she was able work through that experience in a safe, nurturing environment like Grace Church School.
“I promised that I would never do that to myself again,” she said. “I’m glad I came [to Grace], because now that I’m going to college – yes, it’s on a bigger scale, but I can go in with the attitude that I deserve to be there.”
“Between Harlem Academy and Grace Church, she has so many people watching out for her. She needs to be so grateful for all these amazing people who really care about her and helped her to get where she is.”
—Tasha, mom of Tara Eagan
Tara hopes that other students coming up behind her understand how valuable the lines of the Harlem Academy creed really are. “A lot of the students at HA are like me – they’re the first people to go to college in their families. This is when you really, really have to ask for help.”
“I don’t want any students to feel like they don’t belong at university – like they didn’t work hard to get there. I learned this at Grace: wealth does not equal worth. You deserve to be here just as much as the person who’s paying full tuition.”
TAKING INITIATIVE AND TRYING NEW THINGS
In addition to seeking out support, Tara talked a lot about the importance of taking initiative and getting outside of her comfort zone.
“You just have to try things, because it may work, it may not. Your experience may not be mine. But most of the time it can, and you can meet amazing people through that.”
“Coming to Grace, I wasn’t sure I was the writer type, but creative writing turned out to be one of my favorite classes here. And it’s something you bond over with other people. Look at each other’s writing, edit it, and be like, ‘I just love your writing – you express so much here’. Something like that can create the tightest bond between you and another person.”
She tried modern dance at Grace, too, and despite being one of the only students who had never had dance lessons, ended up loving it.
“I didn’t know how to point my toes; I didn’t know what a plié was until I got there. But it didn’t matter if I was the best at it; it just really helped me let everything go when I was in the dance studio.”
SO WHAT'S NEXT?
Armed with practiced resilience and a positive approach to new experiences, Tara is ready to take on college.
She is planning to major in political science. “Ever since middle school, I’ve loved talking about politics. The political parties – where they stem from, and comparative politics with different cultures and countries… All of those things really interest me.”
“I’m thinking about minoring in African-American Studies, too, based off my Harlem Academy history class with Mr. Roberston,” said Tara. “It was my first class about civil rights, and it made me happy to be learning about myself – about my history and why I’m here. It pushed me to want to do more in college.”
And in her free time, Tara is motivated to get involved with campus initiatives, like the Student Organization for Caribbean Awareness, as well as continuing to pursue dance and creative writing.
We asked her if she would come back to this year’s annual Harlem Academy Alumni Holiday Party to share everything that she’s learned, she smiled widely. “Oh definitely! I loved doing that last year. I was happy that I was able to tell them a lot about my experience, because a lot of them are going to go through similar things. I’ll definitely come back.”