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Pursuing Academic Excellence in Community

MADELINE ZUKOWSKI, DSHA '11
This piece appeared in the 2020-2021 DSHA Annual Report, which was in mailboxes in early December 2021. 
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Natalia Beans, DSHA ’23, is a determined young woman. She is committed to working hard for a fruitful future and remaining connected to those around her, opportunities she can take advantage of thanks to her need-based scholarship. Although Beans was a fully virtual student in the 2020–21 school year, she worked to engage herself in her schoolwork and form relationships outside of an in-person classroom environment — proving nothing is standing in her way.
Growing up, Natalia Beans, DSHA ’23, had high expectations placed on her, coupled with family members who showed her the importance of working hard to achieve.

“I know that I should have a purpose in life,” she said. “I owe it to myself, and to the world, and mainly to God to make a change in the community or even in the world. The best way to get there is to challenge myself academically.”

A student who enjoys science and mathematics, Beans chose to take Honors Chemistry and two math courses — Geometry and Honors Algebra II — in the 2020–21 school year so she will be prepared to take AP Calculus as a senior. Not only did she jump into these rigorous courses, but she also studied them while unable to step foot in the physical classroom.

BECOMING A SELF-ADVOCATE

Due to a combination of factors, including protecting her own health (Beans is a cancer survivor, now 12 years in remission), and having an elderly grandmother living at home, Beans made the difficult decision to learn virtually throughout the entirety of the school year, both during months of hybrid instruction and when most students came back full-time in the spring.

But just because she was learning virtually didn’t mean she was any less connected than her peers in the classroom. DSHA had the ability to livestream students who were learning virtually into the classroom, and virtual students were expected to attend their classes. English Faculty Andy Lelinski and Mathematics Faculty Dawn Gardner both noted that Beans went above and beyond, and was not only present, but was also a self-advocate for her own education while learning virtually.

“I wanted to participate (while I was virtual),” Beans said. “It wasn’t that being virtual made me quiet or silent, it made me want to participate more and get my opinions out there … I wanted to show everyone and even myself that your typical virtual student isn’t just someone who turns off their camera and sneaks away from class. You can work and learn virtually. It’s going to be harder, clearly, but that’s why it was so important to me to participate more.”

POWER IN NUMBERS

When preparing to take challenging courses within the boundaries of virtual learning, Beans first set her mentality straight. She kept reminding herself that this was the not the time to neglect her studies and placed importance on being prepared when eventually she did come back to school full time in the fall of 2021. Second, she used the resources around her to stay on track.

“I always stayed engaged with my teachers, asked questions inside and outside of class, and asked my peers outside of class for help and assistance, just so I could stay in the academic loop of things,” she said.

Beans explained that nothing can replace being in a classroom. She commented on the connection and energy that is felt inside a classroom full of her peers. Not having her classmates next to her to keep her going was difficult, but she names a number of her teachers who did what they could to keep her and all students — whether they were in-person or virtual — feel they were in community with one another.

“(My teachers) never made me feel like I was learning alone, which is important,” Beans said.

During a unique year, teachers took the time to ask how students were feeling and coping with a world that at times seemed upside down. Beans was often the first to raise her hand to answer those questions so she could voice not only her feelings about being virtual, but also speak for those students who were learning virtually right alongside her — both in the hybrid model in the fall and in the spring when only some students remained virtual.

“In the world, in school especially, you don’t go through things alone,” she said. “Especially in high school, it’s always important to make connections and talk to people. You’re heard that way. Two people are stronger than one; three are stronger than two. There’s power in numbers and the feeling connected to those numbers. If it’s mutual, it creates a unification that is impactful. It just helps to know you’re not alone.”

FINDING HERSELF

Although DSHA has gone through various models of learning during the pandemic, from a fully virtual format to hybrid to a fully in-person format currently, the core values of the school never changed, Beans said. The empowerment she feels and the Catholic faith formation opportunities she experiences are aspects of the DSHA education she cherishes.

“At this point in my life as a teenager, with more homework and more things outside of school, I can feel distracted (from my faith),” Beans said. “If I attended a high school that wasn’t so focused around faith, I feel like I might lose sight of God and how much He loves me. It’s a blessing to know He’s always there and I have the chance to learn more about Him and my faith.”

Her relationship with God, her academics at DSHA, and her experience with leukemia as a child, have brought her to consider a medical career working with cancer patients.

“I want to give back to the people who were in the same situation I was in,” she said. “God saved me for a reason, and that reason is to give back to those with cancer.”

While her passion isn’t something to take lightly, neither is her gratitude for those who have helped her get to where she is today.

“My need-based scholarship gave me opportunity,” she said. “The whole scholarship program in and of itself is giving so many people the chance to show who they are. I’m extremely grateful for that. Some students want to hide it, but receiving financial help is nothing to be ashamed of.

“Being at DSHA allows me the opportunity to be myself. I am able to prove to other people and myself that I can be whoever I want to be, work hard, and know I have bright future ahead of me.”

To give to students like Natalia, click here.
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