Ruthie Walker walks the halls of the Student Achievement Center in Homewood, greeting students. She makes sure each has their eye on the ball, the ultimate goal—graduation.
“I grew up in Homewood, I’m one of those people that’s got to give back,” she says. “I’m really, really passionate about making sure they understand that this ain't the last stop.”
The Student Achievement Center is an alternative school in the Pittsburgh Public school district where Walker serves as student services assistant and activities coordinator. It's for middle and high school students—grades six through 12—to make up credits if they have fallen behind.
“It’s like a second chance,” Walker says. “When they come here, I let them know that we don’t care what happened in the past because you’re starting off clean right here. From here forward, let’s get those grades up.’”
Walker has worked in education for more than 25 years, and says it is important to extend a hand of compassion to students in ways that are needed for academic growth.
“I think it's really important for them to understand that we're here for them and that we love them,” she says. “I got so many students here call me 'mom' and that's an honor for me because my thing is if you're calling me 'mom' I'm doing something right.”
One of those students is Joshua Dixon, a high school junior.
“You can call her your mom because you know moms care about you, moms make sure you’re good,” he says.
But Dixon adds that Walker’s nurturing demeanor isn’t one to take lightly. He says her method of getting through to students is strategic.
“She'll really go all out for you,” Dixon says. “Anything you want, she'll get it for you. But it comes with a price. You got to be doing good. You got to be on top of your game, you got to be on your Ps and Qs. You can't just be slouching and think like I'm about to just be taking her for an advantage because she does good for me. That's not how Ms. Walker works.”
And, according to Sandra Ballard-Todd, a math teacher at the Student Achievement Center, Walker’s approach seems to be paying off.
“It seemed like a lot of kids are always crowded around her, wanting to ask her questions when she's walking in the hallway,” she says.
Ballard-Todd says her influence has not been limited to students.
“She exposed students to black history, which was never enforced before the she got here,” she says. “It actually motivated other teachers to do the same. It motivated me. I really appreciate her being here because I've seen the students grow the more responsible we have more students make an honor roll we have a lot of students on the student council.”
For Walker, the thing that makes her most proud is seeing her students achieve greatness throughout her career. And part of showing appreciation, she says, is being present for the pinnacle of what should be every student’s ultimate goal.
“Every senior that invites me to their graduation, I go to every single graduation,” Walkers says. “If that means I sit through three or four graduations in a day, I'm going to be there. Because I am here to make sure you're successful and their success helps me to be successful. That gives me energy.”