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Keith Hightower’s path has taken him from remedial writing to law school, with stops in New York City and a middle-school classroom in Hawaii.
Hightower, 43, was born in Youngstown but graduated from high school in Atlanta. He moved to Columbus to work with his father’s insurance agency. He found he had a knack for contracts and negotiations, and that spurred him to continue his education.
“I just kind of had that desire still to earn a degree,” Hightower said.
He started college in 1993, but left to go back to work. He tried again in 2003, and this time his educational career caught fire. Although writing had been a stumbling block in the past, this time he found himself in Tracy Koski’s Developmental Education English class.
After leaving Columbus State, he transferred to Columbia University in New York City, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science in 2009. He was recruited into Teach for America, a program that recruits high-achieving college graduates to spend time teaching underserved communities.
Hightower was sent to Wahiawa, just outside of Honolulu, where he’s been teaching eighth grade for the last five years.
Koski’s method starts with meeting students at their skill level and helping them catch up on the basics if necessary. She taught Hightower to start with a strong thesis statement, then write an outline to flesh out the paper.
“Not only do I remember the process, but I've been using it ever since I've learned it,” Hightower said. “Now I teach my middle school students writing fundamentals to ensure that they won't have to spend time and money doing so in college as I did.”
Koski said she is “immensely proud” of Hightower.
“His success story serves as an important reminder of what a difference Columbus State, Developmental Education, and a student’s own strong work ethic and enthusiasm for learning can make,” Koski said.
Hightower started teaching Social Studies, but also moved to teaching Science classes. Although it’s not his field, he welcomed the challenge to learn a new discipline. His students’ test scores were among the best in the state.
“I think that the beauty of teaching is you’re still learning,” Hightower said. “I’m always still learning, even after I leave the classroom.”
After five years of teaching, Hightower is moving on to still another challenge: law school. He’s starting at the University of Las Vegas' William S. Boyd School of Law this fall.
Although Hightower’s progress is exceptional, thousands of Columbus State students tell a similar story. Around half of Columbus State students are over age 25. Some are training for a new career, some are adding to skills to advance in their current job, and many are taking a second shot at college.