When Foday Jarra received a flyer about Personalized Pathways during a schoolwide presentation for Sherman eighth graders, he wasn’t particularly enthusiastic or thrilled. But he figured he would share the details with his family and get their advice about the opportunity to learn through a lens of Health Services at East High School.
“It was my father who really encouraged me to enroll in Pathways,” Foday recalled. His father, Ousman, is a registered nurse in Madison, providing care to homebound patients. “He has always talked to me about working in health care some day, and over the years I’ve seen the impact he makes on people,” said Foday.
With his father’s guidance, and family’s support, Foday set out on a pathway to explore, analyze and study hot topics in health sciences - a path he has developed a genuine passion for, and a choice he’s glad his father helped him make. He also knew that Pathways would provide ways to connect with opportunities after high school and prepare him to be successful in any profession.
Foday is now a junior at East. He’s friendly with everyone and focused on academics. “We have a true sense of community at East,” said Foday. “Everyone knows each other either from the community or attended the same middle or elementary school together at some point.”
Foday’s mother, Jarje, is part of the East High community, working as a Bilingual Resource Specialist providing Mandika language and cultural support to African students and families.
While Foday credits his high school for being culturally diverse, with 387 Black or African American students enrolled out of a total student population of 1,616, “many students choose to self-segregate,” or hang out with students who share the same ethnicity.
“I love East because of the diversity, but the kids mostly join groups where they can relate to other people who look like them,” he expressed.
Most of Foday’s friends are students who also participate in Personalized Pathways. Like him, they are intrigued by topics in biotechnology, patient care and public health, some who now have a goal of studying health sciences in college and beyond. “It doesn’t matter how you identify culturally,” he said. “In Pathways, we build relationships based on our desire to change people’s lives for the better.”
Foday has benefited from working in the small learning community that Pathways offers. With a class schedule that includes advanced placement classes requiring hard work, time and effort, the health sciences courses he’s taken including medical terminology and body structure and function are his favorites.
“We’ve taken field trips to Exact Sciences and talked to dietitians and medical professionals. I worked on an integrated project with my classmates on 'Food Equity where we presented our research to community members and local health care leaders - this is what you are a part of when you are a Pathways student,” he said, with pride.
And there’s more options for students.
Pathways provides opportunities to connect classroom learning with the real world through a broad theme, no matter if the student plans to pursue the area as a career or not. For Foday, that's health services - anything impacting a person’s health or wellness and the types of skills or knowledge needed to be either a healthy individual or work in a healthcare related field, or both.
While healthcare is a vast field with diverse opportunities to connect to, there’s another pathway to consider for those students who want to learn how information technology and communication impacts their lives. Whether a student has a passion for computers, technology and digital communication or if a student is just intrigued by how people communicate, the Information Technology and Communication pathway is another opportunity to make authentic learning connections.
Foday’s achievements don’t just stop at Pathways. He’s also an AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) student involved in the school’s Black Student Union, Level Up and Brotherhood clubs - activities he says have shaped his identity and strengthened his quest for Black Excellence. He recently became a Pathways Ambassador, sharing his experiences with middle schoolers to consider Pathways opportunities.
Outside of school, Foday is a fun-loving, easy going teenager who lives for soccer and video games. He is the son of immigrant parents who come from The Gambia in West Africa. The oldest of three children, he has two younger sisters, both thriving in MMSD schools.
Every morning Foday speaks to his loved ones in The Gambia over the phone. His relatives are the motivation behind his pursuit to attend the University of Wisconsin - Madison and become a pharmacist. “People in Gambia are dying because they don’t have access to medication and basic health care.”
Foday wants to change that.
“I hope to return to Africa and open clinics for the sick some day, and I’m on that pathway right now.”