New Tech Student at New Orleans-area School Gains National Recognition in USDOE-sponsored Video Contest

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Troy Simon is an optimistic, 16-year-old sophomore at Greater Gentilly New Tech High School and president of the principal’s advisory council who has received national recognition for chronicling his story in a two-minute video. The video was part of a contest sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education and You Tube called “I Am What I Learn.” It asked students to create videos about the importance of education. Simon was one of 10 national finalists for the contest. More than 600 submissions were received.

Troy was the one student who had the initiative, staying after school and was willing to get the work done. And, clearly, he had a compelling story to tell

When he was in middle school, Troy Simon was living with his mother and three younger siblings in what he describes as an abandoned building in one of New Orleans’ toughest public housing projects. He said he was doing drugs, carrying a handgun and headed for a life of crime – or worse.

“I felt like I was going to die anyway. What I was going to do was going to be something that was real bad,” Simon said.

However, during the winter of 2007, a chance encounter with a stranger – a community elder who was familiar with Simon’s family -- changed the course of his life. Simon said the stranger seemed to know all about him and warned him that he was headed toward a path of destruction if he did not change. He took that advice to heart.

Today, Simon is an optimistic, 16-year-old sophomore at Greater Gentilly New Tech High School and president of the principal’s advisory council. He has also received national recognition for chronicling his story in a two-minute video as part of a contest sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education and You Tube called “I Am What I Learn” that asked students to create videos about the importance of education. Simon was one of 10 national finalists for the contest. More than 600 submissions were received.

In his video, Simon talked about his journey from being an illiterate fourth-grader, headed toward a life of crime, to moving to Houston for a year after Hurricane Katrina, to now becoming a role model for others. He hopes his video will have a positive impact on those who are headed in the wrong direction.

“I did it because I wanted to get my message out to the students. I want to tell them it’s not easy changing, but better things are coming for you in life. You can have a better future,” Simon said. “By me changing my life, it shows that I can be a man.”

Lauren Tilton, a TeachUp! intern for the Digital Opportunity Trust, which places interns in the Orleans Parish/ Recovery School District schools to help with technology integration, introduced the video idea to Gentilly students, but said Simon stood out. “Troy was the one student who had the initiative, staying after school and was willing to get the work done. And, clearly, he had a compelling story to tell,” she said.

In the two years he has been a student at Gentilly New Tech, Simon said one of the most important things he has learned is how to count on others. “Responsibility, trust and respect – they teach a lot about that here. I am able to work on a computer and work in groups and learn out to trust the people who I’m working with,” he said.

Simon, who said he could not read or write in the fourth grade, appreciates the more rigorous environment at Gentilly New Tech. “I’m doing well because we work one-on-one. The teachers here, they roll with the things I don’t know and help me get better. They are there for me and they show me love,” he said.

About New Tech Network: New Tech Network is a school development organization that supports the start-up and implementation of innovative high schools. There are currently more than 40 schools across the country, including schools in Indiana, Illinois, North Carolina, New York, Oregon, Colorado, Texas, California and Louisiana. It is a subsidiary of KnowledgeWorks Foundation.

About KnowledgeWorks: KnowledgeWorks strives to be the leader in developing and implementing innovative and effective approaches to high school education in the United States. The organization primarily focuses on redesigning urban high schools, developing STEM and Early College high schools, and supporting student-centered approaches to delivering real learning and results in our schools.

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Byron McCauley
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