Ashley Cox: Expanding the VCU RAMily into Austin, Texas
Ashley Cox, 2013 alumna from the VCU School of Education’s M.T. in Secondary English Education program, says she’s spent her career exploring different aspects of public education and childhood development. Last year, she started working at Austin Achieve High School, a small, tuition-free, open-enrollment public charter school in Austin, Texas and currently teaches geography, a challenge she said she welcomed.
“Teaching a new subject has been challenging in all of the best ways. Outside of my comfort zone, I have learned a lot about my strengths and weaknesses as an educator, and what makes a successful teacher, regardless of the subject,” she said.
Cox is also paired with an advisory class at Austin Achieve, a group of students in their freshmen year she will continue to teach as they move through the grade levels. Their group name? The “VCU Rams,” which Cox said she enthusiastically suggested.
“I have a co-advisor, one of our assistant principals, who has a different alma mater, but I insisted we be the Rams!” she said.
Cox will advise her VCU Rams as they move through the grade levels toward graduation. Together, they play games, study and do restorative circles, and Cox said they have already expressed a lot of interest in VCU.
“That’s a big deal for freshmen in high school who live across the country!” she said.
According to Cox, the benefit of having the advisory class is that, as an instructor, she’s able to stay in her students’ lives the entire time they’re at the school, and for the students, they have an adult in the building who knows them well, can advocate for them, provide mentoring, and hold them accountable if needed.
“It brings me so much joy to know my students on a deeper level and provide them with the mentoring and support they may not receive at home,” she said.
Cox acknowledges the subject of charter schools can be controversial, but Austin Achieve is “an example of a charter school that works.”
“If not for Austin Achieve Public Schools, our scholars would be attending the lowest-performing schools in Texas,” she said.
According to Cox, the students who attend Austin Achieve live in neighborhoods that were redlined as part of the city’s “1928 Master Plan,” a rezoning plan that included a coordinated effort to draw Austin’s black population into a single district. The official 1928 report states this part of the plan would be “the solution of the race segregation problem.”
“The harrowing effects of that time period permeate Austin's East side to this day,” said Cox.
Because of this, Cox said Austin Achieve accepts all students and uses a restorative model to help students deal with behavioral issues and show them areas where they can grow.
“As a teacher, I believe every scholar, regardless of their background, is one mentor away from being a success story,” she said.