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At Charter School Capital, a big part of our mission is to further the charter school movement and celebrating the achievements of charter school students, so we are thrilled to be sharing this incredibly inspirational story of success!
We recently had the honor of speaking with Debra Sellers, from Cincinnati College Preparatory Academy (CCPA), and learned how she persevered to get CCPA’s deserving charter school students acknowledged by the National Honor Society (NHS).
More than just an honor roll, NHS serves to recognize students who have demonstrated excellence in the areas of scholarship, service, leadership, and character. Sellers knew that CCPA’s hard-working and dedicated public charter school scholars deserved recognition the same way their traditional public-school counterparts have since 1921. But it wasn’t going to be easy.
Debra came to CCPA in 2014 as an online instructor, facilitating online courses. For the past two years, she has been serving in the capacity of the guidance counselor. She’s been a guidance counselor and career access coordinator for schools ever since 2002. Prior to her work at CCPA, she was working for Cincinnati Public Schools. Her broad and impressive background includes an undergraduate degree in Human Resources (HR) Training and Development, a Master’s Degree in Social Work with an emphasis in mental health, and a long-running professional career in education.
Sellers is currently CCPA’s Guidance and Career Counselor, but I wanted to better understand how her diverse background and training led to this particular role and why getting NHS recognition for her students would be so important to her.
“I thought, how am I helping? … With HR, I trained in development. You train, and you develop students to transition into the workforce or college. That allowed me to be able to use my experience in that area helping them with resumes, interviewing, assessing what the needs were over the years, and just being able to give them some guidance in that area.
Then, when I thought about grad school, I would have gone for guidance counselor. But, I also have this double life. I work in a residential treatment facility. So, I’ve work in chemical dependency treatment prevention for the past seventeen years. So, I ended up getting a master’s in social work because it was a broad degree that could land me kind of anywhere. Because with social work you are a counselor, you are helping people. You are meeting their needs and trying to get them connected to community-based organizations, helping them to think about basic things like food, clothing, and shelter.
I kind of put those two together, but my resources together, which has been very beneficial to me as I am working with high school students making their transition to the larger picture called life.”
Coming from her experience with previous schools, she knew that student performance recognition was very important for motivating students towards academic success. Recognition, however, was only one piece of the puzzle. Practically speaking, and from her HR background perspective, she knew that recognition from an organization such as the National Honor Society looks really good on a college resume.
She made the first request to the NHS for CCPA in 2014, but at that time, they were not accepting charter schools—only traditional public schools. The frustrating result was that she wasn’t able to get CCPA students recognized. For the past nearly four years, Sellers was unapologetically tenacious, refusing to give up.
“I knew it would be a really nice motivational piece to encourage students to excel academically because I know it looks good on a resume, and it looks good on a college application. It just, it helps to boost morale, self-esteem, and just encouraging the students to continue what they had already been doing—achieving academically.”
“Every year I would call and then they kept saying, ‘You have to go online.’ And I did, and it just wouldn’t go through. I started in 2014. I just kept trying.
In 2017, I called the National Honor Society (again) and told them what I was trying to do and what had been my issue over the last several years. They were like, ‘Well, just go ahead and re-submit your application again this year.’ Then, when it was approved they simply said, ‘Okay, now you just have to pay your charter membership.’ I was like, ‘Oh my God. Oh my God. We’re going have a National Honor Society!’”
With a chuckle, she goes on to share that she was equally excited when that they said, “You’re going to be billed.” And, from her enthusiastic recounting of that moment, I can safely say I don’t think anyone has ever been more excited to get a bill … ever.
“When they finally opened to us, I was like, ‘Oh yes! We have to do this!’”
I asked her what she thought changed – finally in 2017 – to make the NHS want to recognize charter school students. “Well, I don’t think they recognized charter schools, period. You had to go to a more traditional high school. I think that they looked at the fact that they are accredited, each state recognizes them, and that there’s a growing number of public charter schools nationwide.”
Becoming a member of the National Honor Society is – as the name perhaps already implies – a tremendous honor for students. One that’s been experienced by high school scholars at traditional public schools around the country for decades. For this, CCPA’s first year having their charter school students recognized, Sellers wanted to make sure it had all the pomp and circumstance that the CCPA honorees, their proud families, and school community deserved.
”We just really wanted it to be something that the students knew this was a big deal. We put together a formal ceremony. We had all the candles, the pinning, we did the oath, we had a guest speaker (a TV personality from the local station), we held the ceremony in the evening, we had 33 students, and they all signed a book. It was really a nice ceremony.”
But, for even more impact on the students, Sellers kept the induction into the NHS as well as all of the planning for this huge event a secret from the honorees.
“I didn’t tell them. I kept wandering around the school and asking them random things. I gave certain kids cards and asked them for their addresses. I never told them what it was, and they had no idea until they received the letter at home. I wanted it to be a surprise for them to know that they were being recognized. After receiving their letters, they excitedly came back and asked, ‘What is this? What is this?’ So, I gave them a little background of what it was. The following Monday their names were on the school marquee in the atrium so the whole student body could see who the National Honor Society inductees were.”
An impressive 33 tenth, eleventh, and twelfth graders out of CCPAs 182 students were recognized this March. The graduating seniors were specially recognized with stoles that included their new National Honor Society patch.
Sellers shares,“I wanted them to know that this is an honor and it says something about you … you and the work that you have done during your high school years, and this is a way of being recognized—and it’s by a reputable organization, the National Honor Society.”
Sellers is not stopping here and is dedicated to continuing her progress ¬– and not just for the CCPA students. Although students cannot become members of NHS until high school, she’s getting a jumpstart on middle-school-aged students in her area to begin thinking about the National Junior Honor Society (NJHS). “If I have my wish, we’re going down to junior high. They have one that’s for sixth, seventh, eighth graders. I’m trying to get them on board. That’s my goal this year. If you get them to really be thinking about the bigger picture, if you say, ‘I want to become an engineer,’ you don’t start that in your senior year. You start that back there. It’s a process.”
We are always honored to share the amazing work that charter school leaders are doing across the country to make a difference and help forward charter school movement. Debra Sellers is a prime example of the commitment, dedication, and outstanding work charter leaders are doing—and that deserves our recognition. We thank her for taking the time to speak with us and for paving the way for other charter schools to motivate and honor their students’ achievements in the same way.
Since the company’s inception in 2006, Charter School Capital has been committed to the success of charter schools. We help schools access, leverage, and sustain the resources charter schools need to thrive, allowing them to focus on what matters most – educating students. Our depth of experience working with charter school leaders and our knowledge of how to address charter school financial and operational needs have allowed us to provide over $1.8 billion in support of 600 charter schools that have educated over 1,027,000 students across the country. For more information on how we can support your charter school, contact us. We’d love to work with you!Learn More