When the first senior at Freedom Prep High School received her college acceptance letter, it was a moment of joy and inspiration for both scholars and staff. The senior graduating class would soon receive many more acceptance letters, and for others such as FPHS Principal Rebecca (Becky) Agostino, it was overwhelming to see their scholars achieving a goal they’ve worked on together for years.
“My first year of leadership was their first year of high school, and we’ve been through so much together,” Ms. Agostino said. “I intellectually understood that that day would come when our first student would get into college, but emotionally it was amazing and it was something that I know the whole team is really proud of.”
The culture at Freedom Prep High School is undeniably different. The school is coming off their largest Black History Month celebration and preparing scholars for their international trips in April. In a recent conversation with the 2018 graduating class, many seniors told Becky that they plan to return to Camden, New Jersey, and make a difference in their city.
“The fact that our scholars are so passionate about making a difference in the community where they’re from, shows how invested they are in our mission and this belief that with support, structure, and love, any young person can accomplish anything,” she said.
Building that level of determination to change the world isn’t easy, but Becky does make it look easy. Jessica Tait, FPHS’ Operations Manager, says Becky’s ability to connect with scholars is something she’s never seen before.
“I found that she has this incredible ability to have conversations with scholars that are emotional and she can – through her infinite wisdom and problem solving – talk them through their emotions and at the same time weave in why we need them to meet the expectation that they’re meeting.”
Jessica says that prior to college interviews, Becky sat down with many of the seniors to help them practice. A level of dedication that she says also carries over to the staff at FPHS.
“She is the type of leader who is always willing to meet with anyone on staff to problem solve anything,” Jessica said. “She truly is fully invested in every single aspect of this building and gives her all every single day.”
Literature teacher Ashley Glover, who began Black History Month town halls at FPHS four years ago, says Becky’s support of her ideas, continual push to grow the event, and support to grow as a teacher, has been extremely empowering. Ashley says Becky’s leadership has created a culture of kindness, community, and empowerment that’s unseen in other places.
“Kindness is something that she’s taught all of us in a way that maybe we weren’t expecting,” Ashley said. “You meet her and understand that her leadership personality is very different and I think it sets a very strong culture and changes everyone around her for the better.”
Becky says that traditionally there is a perception that showing empathy and sensitivity are a sign of weakness. However, Becky argues that leadership in emotional intelligence is key. Understanding how her team feels and working to make them feel better has helped her manage morale.
“I try to speak to my team and our scholars about how the traditional components of female leadership are actually incredible strengths, and help young leaders motivate their teams and lead their teams to success,” she said.
As the 2018 FPHS senior class prepares to graduate, and more with scholars about to follow in their footsteps, Becky says she’s still not done growing as a leader.
“Our school has come so far in the last four years in terms of culture and instruction,” she said. “That being said, I walk through the halls and see a million things I want to do better. I think when you’re surrounded by amazing kids all day, that’s all you can think about. How you can get better for them.”