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August 22, 1999

Drilling Down

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If she didn’t understand the Power of One before, then Carolyn Leuner sure knows it now. Leuner, a 2002 Cornell University graduate with a double major in English and government, set out to teach fifth- and sixth-grade science. Four days before school started, her school switched her to kindergarten, of all places.

The challenge of teaching five-year-olds is big enough. But mix in the fact that Leuner was teaching in Intermediate School 151 in New York City’s impoverished South Bronx neighborhood and that she wasn’t an education major, and you’ve got a recipe for trouble. Leuner, however, took it in stride—and surpassed just surviving.

Leuner accepted a position teaching in the Bronx as part of Teach For America, an organization that recruits college graduates to devote two years to teach in urban and rural schools in low-income communities—no teaching degree required. Leuner joined the more than 9,000 people who have been a part of TFA for a two-year commitment. And she definitely stands out.

The scene: An old brick building that houses children of all ages. Teachers often had to lock classroom doors to keep out older kids on the prowl. Not to mention the fact that many of Leuner’s kindergarten students didn’t know their colors—or even their full names.

The challenge: Motivate children from vastly different cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds to pay attention and to learn.

The plan: Focus on each child as an individual—essentially, practice the Power of One, one person at a time. Make these children understand that they are each special and capable of learning and succeeding.

For Leuner, that meant entertaining the children to get them to pay attention in the first place. While battling behavior problems and inattention—something all teachers know intimately—Leuner managed to spend time with the children. It was slow going, but by the end the year, all of her students knew their letters, could add single-digit numbers, and have keyed in on directions.

What made the difference? Patience and an interest in seeing each and every child succeed. Key evidence that Leuner knew the children she worked with: During the kindergarten graduation, she spoke about each child individually, pointing out what made the child special, how the child had improved over the year, and key successes.

One person—Carolyn Leuner—made a difference in the lives of those children. Special attention, love, support, patience, and the desire to help lead to each of her 19 students learning and achieving.

With more than 6 billion people in the world, just imagine what would happen if each and every one of us were able to make a difference in the life of one other person?

No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.—Aesop

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