One small but diverse school prepared him well for all that came after

Chalkbeat journalists ask the people we come across in our work to tell us about their education stories and how learning shaped who they are today. Learn more about this series, and read other installments, here.

Andrew Pillow is a fifth-grade social studies teacher at KIPP Indianapolis, a charter school where he has taught since 2011. He grew up in Louisville and graduated from the J. Graham Brown School, which bills itself as “a classic liberal arts experience in a small learning community.” It was Kentucky’s first magnet school when it opened in 1972. Today it serves about 650 students in grades K-12 and its magnet theme is “self-directed learning.” Pillow studied political science and journalism at the University of Kentucky and earned a masters degree in teaching from Marian University. He came to Indianapolis through Teach For America. We met him at the showcase for projects by Teach Plus fellows earlier this month.

Here’s his story:
I went to a public school in in Louisville in (Jefferson County Public Schools), which has very good public schools. And I took that for granted. People back home say “this school is terrible,” and I say, “No, you don’t understand. Our worst school would probably be one of the best schools in Indianapolis.”

I went to a magnet school, The Brown School. It was a K-12 school. I went through the whole school. I was there the whole time. Then I went to the University of Kentucky. It worried people, who thought I wouldn’t be able to adjust to such a big atmosphere. I only graduated with 35 people. But it was fine.

The honest truth is that you do gain a lot of insight going to school with the same people for 12 years. The school had people from every zip code. So when you know people from different parts of the city for 12 years, you really gain an insight about diversity that most people just don’t have. I feel like if I went to a traditional inner-city school I might have difficulty interacting with white folks. I’ve never had trouble interacting with different people.

It was a really good high school, and I didn’t realize it until I got to college. College was really easy for me. I got a better GPA than I did in high school. I knew something was up. I didn’t always get great grades in high school, but I got great grades in college.

I was worried about finding a job so I found out about Teach For America on the web. I fell in love with teaching. Louisville and Indianapolis are very similar — they both kind of feel like small towns. I see people I know all the time. I thought it would feel a lot bigger. But it is, a lot of it, the same.