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Developing persistence at Purdue Polytechnic High Schools

Jay Williams in graduation cap and gown.

Jay Williams, graduating senior at Purdue Polytechnic High School Schweitzer Center at Englewood, will be starting as a math education major at Purdue. (Purdue University photo/John Underwood)

Graduating senior Jay has learned the importance of getting back up and trying again

Jay Williams has had a dream since she was 8 years old: attending Purdue University.  

It all started with a commercial she saw for the school’s engineering program. While she hasn’t lost sight of her goal to attend Purdue, when she does this summer, it will be as a math education major. 

Asked about the decision to pursue math, Jay explains, “I like the structure of it. You put these numbers together like a puzzle. I just love it.”  

Her desire to become a teacher is also directly related to her passion for math.  

“I know a lot of people who don’t like math because they’ve had math teachers who haven’t always been the best,” Jay says. “I feel like a lot of people would absolutely love it if they had teachers who were invested and willing to give their time and energy to make it fun and interesting.”  

Jay has had some of those teachers at Purdue Polytechnic High School Schweitzer Center at Englewood, including her freshman math coach, Lacey Beatty. One of the memories that inspires her still today was how coach Beatty had the presence of mind to realize when the lesson wasn’t connecting with students.  

“She took a step back and said, ‘OK, let’s go back and I’ll teach it a different way,’” Jay recalls. “As a freshman who wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do, that really showed me that it was OK to rewind and look for a better way of working through something. That was just really inspiring to me.”  

Failing forward  

That experience in Jay’s freshman math class was a precursor for one of the biggest lessons she learned during her time at PPHS: You can learn from mistakes and grow from your failures.  

Jay says she didn’t always have this mentality, but a passion project helped change all that.  

Passion projects bring PPHS students and coaches together to think creatively and work collaboratively in areas that might not fit neatly into typical high school curriculum: setting up and running a coffee cart, building Rube Goldberg machines and beekeeping, for example.  

“I had this one project called failing forward,” Jay says. “It was a workshop trial project where we would mix it up and make different things like birdhouses. Part of the project was that you weren’t supposed to be able to do it right the first time. So we would work on the same project every day for a week, and our coach would be like, ‘OK, let’s go back. What did you miss? Where can you improve?’ I really incorporated that mindset into everything I do.” 

Ultimately, that’s a lesson Jay is going to carry forward with her — through Purdue and beyond.  

“I want to be one of those teachers that students remember,” Jay says. “Not just in the subject that I teach, but also in life skills like developing that growth mindset.” 

That’s something PPHS does very well. You have a syllabus, you have deadlines at the end of each cycle, but nobody’s holding your hand.

Jay Williams
PPHS Class of ’23

Developing life skills 

From the way Jay describes it, PPHS challenges students to get outside of their comfort zones and take more ownership over their day.  

“We have six classes every six weeks,” Jay explains. “It’s a large workload, but you’re able to manage it with the amount of time they give you.” 

For Jay, developing greater ownership and responsibility over her schedule is setting her on the right track as she prepares for college.  

“When you get to college, you have a lot of things you need to do,” she explains. “You’re coming out of an environment where people have been handing you things and telling you exactly how to do everything. I think that’s something PPHS does very well. You have a syllabus, you have deadlines at the end of each cycle, but nobody’s holding your hand.” 

Jay Williams smiling with classmates.

I want to be one of those teachers that students remember. Not just in the subject that I teach, but also in life skills like developing that growth mindset.

Jay Williams PPHS Class of ’23

Finding balance 

Jay is a hard worker. She’s been studious and persistent throughout her time at PPHS. But over her senior year, she began to realize that she needed to bring some more balance to her life.  

“I had to stop and take a step back and just kind of relax,” Jay says. “I started doing meditation, and that helps a lot. Also, I think journaling is a really, really big part of finding that balance between your work and homelife. It can help you realize that you may have been experiencing some very negative emotions, but you can move past that.”  

Because some days don’t allow the space or time to take a step back, Jay has taken a proactive approach.  

“I like to designate days where I’m just off my phone, off my computer — I won’t do any calculus. I’ll do some crocheting and I’m just sort of living in the moment. And I find that being outside helps a lot.”  

Jay has a deep enthusiasm for math, but she isn’t afraid to try new things.  

As part of the Thomora Black Arts Workshop, a weeklong summer program at Purdue’s Black Cultural Center, Jay participated in a production that involved singing, dancing and spoken word poetry.  

“All week was amazing,” Jay shares. “We got the chance to be onstage. It was a project that pulled you out of your shell because there are a lot of kids that weren’t really comfortable being onstage. But by the end of the week, everyone was really excited about it.”  

As Jay prepares to attend Purdue, she’s looking forward to continuing her involvement with the Black Cultural Center. 

“I loved it there,” Jay says. “It has a very welcoming environment. I’ve been on a bunch of college tours, and I feel like I haven’t been able to get that environment anywhere else. It’s a really unique experience.”