Our Beloved Community: Why Student U?

Why Student U?
by Alexandra Zagbayou, High School Program Director
Over the past couple of week’s we’ve been doing interviews with various people interested in working for Student U. The best part of the conversations have been the when people ask us: Why do you love working for Student U? Although this question gets repetitive and makes me feel like a broken record, I am so thankful that my answer to this question is genuine and always reminds me of the special community we have co-created here.

I often start with our students (a.k.a my babies). I love the dreams our students have for their lives. The resilience they exhibit when navigating difficult life experiences. The joy they bring to my life. Their acceptance of my authentic life experience and the pride they have for being a part of our community. I love them for who they are now and who they will become.

Our students wouldn’t be the wonderful humans they are without their incredible parents. This is naturally the next stop on my “I love Student U tour.” I love the vision our parents have for their children’s lives. I do not take for granted the access they give us into their lives and the humility it takes to be vulnerable and acknowledge that they want a different life for their children. While I do not have children of my own, the parents of our students have taught me so much about the type of parent I aspire to be. Thank you.

Our students and their parents are the foundation for the work we do here at Student U and are at the core of my motivation of being a part our community. Our team, however, the incredible colleagues I get to work with every day, have been a huge part of the reason I have stayed at Student U for the past six years with no intentions of leaving. From our full time team members, to our advocates, teachers, grade heads and family heads, I am convinced that I work with the smartest, most caring, passionate, selfless people in Durham. Our collaborative spirit, trust in each other’s skill sets, vision and mission alignment, work ethic, and the deep relationships we form inside and outside of work have made Student U a dream work environment for me. I am not sure if I will ever find another place like it.

Next is Durham, or #durm for the Instagram lovers. I love that we are built for Durham by Durham. I honestly didn’t get the Durham hype my first summer here at Student U, but I have since converted (some might even call me an avid Durham ambassador). I am thankful to the Durham community for entrusting us with the resources and space to do the work we do. From Durham Public Schools to Durham Academy, NCCU, Durham Tech, and Duke, I love the sense of ownership the Durham community as a whole feels about our success.

I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about my own journey as part my answer. Student U has allowed me to find my own brilliance, discover my best self, respect myself and others, achieve greatness, dream fearlessly, and energize my community in the ways that are the most authentic to my experience. I haven’t reached the fullness of my potential yet, but I know that Student U will continue to be the place that will push and support me through that journey. I am thankful to be able to become a better version of myself alongside our students, parents, and staff.

As I think about all the wonderful things that bring me to work here every day, I also recognize how fragile our community is. This community is based on trust, being valued, having agency over your experience, having voice and feeling like you belong. As we grow and welcome new families and staff to our community, we have to work collectively to ensure that our individual and collective “why,” why we work and/or continue to be a part of the Student U community, remains true for ourselves, to ensure that the new people we welcome to our family have the same incredible experience and to ensure that our beloved community can be realized.


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