Defining Moments

Sometimes the most normal of days turn out to be ones that you’ll never forget.

When I started writing this post, it was from an organizational perspective, not a personal one. But the further I got, the more I realized that this story has become a defining moment for my professional life, and it made more sense for me to share it from my point of view.

I’ve been working with 3DE students at Banneker High School since we began in 2014. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know the students – what motivates them, what makes them tick and the ever-changing status of what’s ‘cool’.

At 3DE schools, we’re creating environments where students are a part of something bigger than themselves. Not only do they feel supported by their peers and teachers, but they begin to build the skills and confidence to know that their dreams are actually within reach.

It all begins with engagement. Creating an engaging learning environment where students flourish goes beyond just providing hands-on experiences; it means developing a culture in which students are academically, emotionally and socially supported, and it goes far beyond their scores on the latest assignment. It means working to ensure that their education covers every dimension of their lives.

This defining moment came to light during a national photoshoot with Arby’s. I was excited that 3DE, JA and myself, were going to be a part of something and a brand as iconic and salient as Arby’s. Of course, it’s not about our organizations or us. It’s about the power of our mission to transform education and lives, and in this instance that story would unfold through Courteciya, a rising senior at Banneker High School whose smile and determination are contagious.

I was excited to experience this alongside Courteciya. To see her excitement as she got to have her makeup and wardrobe done, and pose for the camera, but I didn’t expect the day to become a defining moment in her personal growth, and my own professional life.

It was so much more than a photo shoot for her. It was a day spent amongst professionals –artists, stylists, photographers, national marketing firm consultants. It was fast, orchestrated, busy. To any non-marketing or advertising buff, it was foreign and even intimidating.

When you first meet Courteciya she is a little soft spoken and reserved, but as she got comfortable she put herself out there. She started asking questions – the very first a thoughtful one about the end goal of the shoot and the emotion they were hoping to capture. From there a dialog opened up and suddenly a 16-year-old was an equal in the space among professionals.

The conversation continued - What kind of shot are you looking for? What role does my outfit play in how the photo comes across? How does this all get translated to something that will be in every single Arby’s store?

She owned it and recognized that she was part of something bigger. Her actions reflected that she understood the business of the day and she delivered on meeting every goal and objective – positioning herself to be an integral piece in achieving the now collective end goal.


It was exposure to a world that Courteciya had never seen, in a setting that she likely would’ve never experienced without 3DE. For the day, she wasn’t just a student – she was a model. A model in front of the camera, but more importantly for others.

When I started reflecting back on the day I realized that her engagement and maturity were no accident – she had been unknowingly preparing for this moment for the three years prior. Every site visit that tested her nerves before presenting to a panel of professionals, every case challenge that she was forced to work with people outside of her comfort zone, every lesson that challenged her to look beyond the face value and to analyze a situation, to ask the right questions to get to the desired point. All of these moments, combined with the overall culture of persistence and community that had formed at 3DE at Banneker High School, had made her ready.

By the end of the day, Courteciya wasn’t ready to say goodbye. I watched her transition from a nervous teen to joking and conversing with professionals she’d shared the day with. Everyone was impressed – to watch a high school student carry herself with such poise, and to be engaged in something that was larger than herself – how could you not be inspired?

It’s been months since that day and Courteciya is still in regular contact with the adults she met that day. Is she going to become a creative director, marketing manager or national photographer? Probably not -- she wants to be a vet.  What I do know though, is that she can hold her own in unfamiliar situations and thinks beyond the world she knew when she entered 3DE at Banneker High School just four years ago.

These are the kinds of moments that begin to define a student’s trajectory.

What was just another day at work for a handful of professionals ended up being a defining moment for a student, and one of the first times I internalized the full impact and opportunity that 3DE represents for students. That’s the difference between a conventional high school experience and 3DE. That kind of impact is what we mean by education for every dimension of life.


Sarah Lippert is on the Marketing Team at JA of Georgia.

Laura Stidham