Beacon of Hope

(Photo by Duane Zehr)

By Matt Hawkins
May 27, 2014

No matter the circumstances, there is no excuse for failing to succeed in life. This will be the message students will hear from Ashley Horton ’14. The Chicago Public Schools product will spend the next five years teaching in her home city’s struggling schools while she pursues a master’s degree in urban education through the Academy of Urban School Leadership.

Horton, who spent the first decade of her education in CPS, discovered the passion to teach in an urban setting after her family moved to the south suburbs for junior high and high school. The education quality contrast shocked Horton.

“It was eye-opening to see the difference in education, and that made me want to pursue education so I could give back,” the elementary education major said. “I wanted to set high expectations for students.”

The AUSL option appealed because it gave on-the-job training and mentorship in addition to the master’s degree. AUSL students spend a year in selected Chicago Public Schools while taking courses at the downtown Chicago campus of National Louis University. The CPS schools are ones that have not met state academic standards and are working with AUSL to turn around academics and educational environments. Graduate students commit to four additional years teaching in CPS.

“I wanted to teach in an urban environment with students who carry so many issues into school,” she said. “This is an excellent chance to gain that experience and to learn to handle situations with confidence.”

Horton’s student teaching experiences at Bradley surprised both her and students as she learned the craft in the diverse Peoria District 150.

“They were shocked an African-American female wanted to be a teacher and in college,” she said. “It was eye-opening to see students at a young age thinking a future was almost impossible, but I wanted to be a living example of things that are possible.”

Horton’s experiences at Manual Academy, Rolling Acres Middle School and Whittier contrasted with the stable, supportive family that enabled her to pursue her dreams. Hours spent listening to students’ stories exposed her to situations that helped prepare her for a lifetime in urban settings.

“Those experiences helped me reach out to so many people and learn to accept them,” she said. “I met so many different types of people that it opened my eyes to what I wanted to do to help those who needed a little encouragement.”

Horton’s message to students echoes the encouragement she received from Bradley faculty and staff. She counted teacher education faculty Jim Burdette and Dr. Patricia Nugent as well as Multicultural Student Services Assistant Director Norris Chase among her biggest cheerleaders.

“Professors pushed me to go above and beyond expectations,” she said. “Plus, the support of the staff was so encouraging.”