Rising to Challenges: Catching Up with Miles Williams '16
Harlem Academy guides our students to thrive at the highest academic levels. Miles Williams ’16 was not challenged by his former school, so he came to Harlem Academy. Now he is attending one of the most challenging schools in the nation. We caught up with him in his freshman year at Lawrenceville to see how Harlem Academy prepared him.
Lawrenceville’s bucolic campus, designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, is a far cry from the repurposed storefronts of Harlem Academy. Miles points, however, to the strength of his preparation at Harlem Academy to meet the academic rigor of his new school.
This is not the first time that Miles has had to adjust to a demanding environment. He excelled in his fourth-grade class at a New York City public school, reading above grade level, and tutoring a classmate in math and reading each week.
His mother knew, however, that a student with his abilities needed more rigorous learning to reach his potential. On the application to Harlem Academy she wrote, “I am very concerned that Miles is not being challenged. It is a good school, and we learn at home, but Miles needs consistent work at his level.”
At Harlem Academy, Miles found the challenge that he and his mother were seeking.
“When I took my first trimester exams at HA, I did poorly on all of them,” he says. “Before I came to Harlem Academy, I had no idea what studying was. My teachers noticed, and they introduced me to what good work habits are all about.”
Miles and his teachers knew that he had the potential to succeed at a school as rigorous as Harlem Academy, but it took hard work and perseverance to get there.
“The line in the creed that resonates most for me is the last one: I don’t give up,” he says. “I have to keep reminding myself that I can’t give up meeting the standards, but I also can’t give up improving myself and raising the standards.”
At Harlem Academy, he discovered new passions. He developed a love for science, and Harlem Academy’s curriculum gave him a chance to explore the subject in depth. The middle school’s annual three-day trips to Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute introduced him to chemistry, something he continues to pursue.
Life at Lawrenceville
In his first year at Lawrenceville, Miles has thrown himself into challenging coursework, including geometry and French.
“Lawrenceville requires a lot of its students,” he says. “If I hadn't attended Harlem Academy, I think I'd be in a lot of trouble. Harlem Academy instilled in me a very good work ethic.”
He’s keeping busy with a host of clubs and extracurricular activities, including chess, improvisational acting, and competitive rock climbing.
“At first, I was nervous about standing out,” he says. “My mom said to just put myself out there and try new things. I don’t think I would have listened to her if that idea hadn’t been taught so strongly at Harlem Academy.”
Miles is especially excited about the Chemistry Olympiad Club competition. This involves several successive rounds, first within the school, then at national research centers, and culminating in an international competition where the top four American students will represent their country. He’s motivated by the possibility of making it to the end of this competition, but he knows he’ll need perseverance and initiative to get there.
“I don’t think I’ll get that far this year or even next year,” he says, “but I know that I want to do things like that eventually. I spend a few hours a week studying from a massive, college-level chemistry textbook. I’ll learn what I can and take notes and create flash cards. We’ll see what happens.”
In the meantime, Miles is happy to explore all that his new school has to offer.
“At Lawrenceville, there are a lot of things to experience that can change you profoundly. If I could talk with new Harlem Academy students, I would tell them to come with an open mind, because you’re going to be exposed to a lot of subjects that are going to be different from what you already know or think. Harlem Academy really cracked a barrier for me so I’m prepared for these opportunities to flow in. Instead of having to figure this out during freshman and sophomore year, I can really experience all four years of high school.”