Atak Natali, currently a sophomore at Casco Bay High School, also attended Presumpscot Elementary School, both in Portland, Maine.

Both schools serve a diverse student population, fully implement the EL Education model, and have attained an EL Education Credential. Atak shared his experiences in a keynote address at the EL Education 2017 National Conference in Chicago. Hear Atak’s bold story in his own words:

“I have learned as a student in EL Education schools that we don’t have to be great at things right away: we just have to be committed to revise and have the perseverance to stick with things.”

“I have learned as a student in EL Education schools that we don’t have to be great at things right away: we just have to be committed to revise and have the perseverance to stick with things.” I have a great model of revision and perseverance in my parents. In 2001, my parents fled war-torn Sudan and immigrated to America.

When I ask now about their leaving Sudan, my mother talks of troops and military forces breaking into homes and killing people. My parents’ willingness to take a risk, to start over, and to work hard in their new country is an inspiration.

I have had lots of opportunities for revision, especially in Math. I will never forget my second grade teacher Ms. Ridlon at the Presumpscot School. I ended up learning a lot more than just Math from her, I learned I could do more than I thought possible if I refused to give up.

In January 2017, Atak and his friends were walking to a bus stop after school when they were accosted by strangers who shouted “Why don’t you go back to where you came from?”

I was shocked. But it was the response of the entire crew at Casco Bay High School that affected me the most. The students and faculty organized discussions and then a schoolwide march to the bus stop, all of us holding posters and chanting our messages of welcome, love, peace, and justice.

The reaction from my EL Education school community let me know everybody had my back—mine and my friends.

The current climate about immigrants and refugees in our country is challenging. But my classmates and I refuse to give up and accept this. Someday I hope to be a lawyer and work to achieve social justice for all people.

It won’t be easy and that is ok. I will continue to revise to get great, stay committed to my goals, and work to improve my community.

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Cultivating Character

“School has to be bigger, it has to mean more than ‘I teach my subject.’ School has to be about teaching people to change the world for the better…Teachers don’t just teach subjects; we teach people.”


Sydney Chaffee
2017 National Teacher of the Year and EL Education teacher at Codman Academy Charter Public School in Boston


Better World Project

Eighteen carefully documented projects, combining character and scholarship, highlight a range of ways EL Education students contribute to a better world.

“We believe that when a student is done with school and enters adult life, she will be judged for the rest of her life not by her performance on tests of basic skills, but by the quality of her work and the quality of her character.” – Ron Berger, Chief Academic Officer, EL Education

In EL Education schools:
Character is seen as a dimension of student achievement, in addition to mastery of knowledge and skills and high quality student work.

Character is both a means to higher achievement and an end in itself. A powerful body of evidence now supports the idea that students who build character right along with literacy and numeracy are more likely to reach their full potential.

Character is built through compelling curriculum, deeper instruction, and student-engaged assessment in the context of a positive, empowering school culture.

Students work together to create greater equity and excellence in their school and beyond. The benefits of cultivating character accrue beyond the individual; we all gain from young people who are healthy, engaged members of the larger community.

For over 25 years, EL Education has been developing scholar-citizens who are “getting smart to do good.”

Building Equitable Learning Environments (BELE)

Funded by the Raikes Foundation, BELE is a three-year national learning community leveraging improvement science to build more equitable schools. Six EL Education schools are working with EL Education to deepen our collective understanding and ability to ensure positive outcomes for all students.

A major focus is Crew, a group structure that fosters relationship building, academic progress, and character development. Results from the first-year baseline survey of 1,425 students show percent agreement:

I feel respected by other students in my Crew.

The other students in my Crew expect me to treat everyone in the Crew with respect.

I feel respected and included by my Crew leader.

I feel like the other students in my
Crew accept me for who I am.

EL Education

EL Education develops students’ character by cultivating a sense of purpose, belonging, and agency. Students engage in challenging learning experiences within a supportive learning environment, becoming effective learners and ethical people who contribute to a better, more equitable world.

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