In 2011, Louisville’s Westport Middle School was deemed a “persistently low-achieving” school by the state. As we reported last year, Westport has begun to make gains in student achievement (albeit slowly—it’s still ranked in the bottom 10 percent of schools statewide). With those advancements have come gains in student behavior and school culture.

Last year, I gave Westport Middle teacher Sarah Yost a recorder and asked her to keep an audio diary during 2013-14 academic year. Through the school year, Yost explained that making strides with students academically extends beyond the classroom. To help  students  deemed “at-risk,” schools need teamwork and an understanding of students’ needs.

“It can be really difficult when kids have had eight years in school, 13 years of their lives, of not having academic success, trying to make up those gaps and convince them that they are truly capable,” Yost said.

Here is an example of the challenges Yost and other teachers face. Listen and read more below:Teacher Diaries: 'This Is Why I Got Into Education'

At one point during the 2013-14 academic year, Yost found that the school work from one of her highest-performing students was “going down the tubes.”

Here’s some of what Yost said in her own words:

“I pulled her into my classroom and I was like, ‘What’s going on with your work? Why the drop in performance instead of a growth like you would normally expect to see?’ And she just shrugged her shoulders at first and then she just opened up.

“She’s very articulate, so she was able to really get into the details in some of the things that are happening at home … and just the stress that she’s under. She doesn’t know where to get food stamps but there’s no food at home. And her mom is giving plasma twice a week and that’s what they’re living on. And she tries to hide the money from dad, who’s an addict.

“Luckily for us we have a social worker from (the University of Louisville) … and she was immediately able to come up to my room and give her some pointers about where she could go to find the services that she needs. It’s just so much stress for a 14-year-old to be under. 

“I told her, ‘This is what I’m here for and this is why I got into education, this is why I specifically got into public education… was because there are students like her who have so much potential, so much raw talent, and crackling intelligence but who for whatever multitude of environmental reasons got the bad deal.

“But we’re get her back on track. We’ll make sure that she’s ready for high school and she’s ready for that K-PREP. Because when they judge us and they judge how we’re doing, it all comes down to that test.”

We’ll have more stories about the start of the 2014-15 Jefferson County Public Schools academic year in the coming days. Join us for our back-to-school special at 1 p.m. Tuesday on 89.3 WFPL, or stream here at You’ll hear Yost and other stories, and we’ll be joined by JCPS Superintendent Donna Hargens.