Combined with his commitment to the lifelong success of his students – and an understanding of the barriers they faced every day that were often beyond their control – Barqawi invited numerous community and industry partners into his classroom to bring learning to life.
Partners included Microsoft, Shell Oil Co., university professors, law enforcement officers, healthcare, finance and legal professionals, workforce development specialists, leaders of mentoring programs, college counselors, and more. As a result of these partnerships, students gained valuable exposure to potential careers.
Every other month, Shell sent numerous employees to Barqawi’s classroom to talk about careers in the energy industry, lead tours of local area refineries and the corporate headquarters, discuss the ABCs of the company’s business goals and mission and kick off a conversation about the implications of renewable energy.
Students enjoyed hearing about how many Shell staff had grown their careers from the bottom up.
“They saw real life examples of people who started at a very junior level and rose through the ranks. It was inspiring for the kids since many of them didn’t have much stability in their lives,” said Barqawi.
“All of the Shell staff emphasized that perfection simply isn’t possible. The topic of learning from your mistakes, earning trust from colleagues and working as a collaborative team really struck a chord.”
Hard work pays off
Barqawi said it would have been impossible to positively influence his students without the help and insight of others. He wanted his students to receive quality info from the source, which middle and upper class kids often have at their fingertips.
His hard work paid off, and Barqawi received a mayoral proclamation in 2014 that declared April 15 ‘Kashmere Junior and Senior Day’ in Houston. Barqawi’s 11th and 12th grade students outperformed 37 other high schools and received the highest passage rate on the physics benchmark exam in the Houston Independent School District (ISD) that year. More than 85 percent of his students passed at the 70th-percentile mastery level.
ProUnitas connects the dots for students
Through his teaching, Barqawi realized that his students’ ability to learn was not due to their lack of motivation – it was a lack of essential services at the school and community level.
After three years with TFA, Barqawi decided that his heart was no longer tied to becoming a doctor – so he built ProUnitas, an organization that brings various nonprofits and agencies together and connects them with kids who desperately need support but often don’t have the capacity to seek it out themselves.
“Poverty is the biggest challenge for improving our urban education system – and there’s no band-aid for that…it’s extremely complex and multi-faceted, and many things are very interdependent,” he said.
Poverty often leads to other issues that inhibit a student’s learning ability, such as lack of proper medical care and hunger.