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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Students in Chicago are back in class after a strike kept them home from their first days of school. Today on StoryCorps, we'll hear from a young woman who came up through the Chicago school system. Tierra Jackson struggled through her school years. She's 23 now, but as a teenager, she enrolled in a charter school where John Horan was the dean. They say down together at StoryCorps to talk about what Tierra's life was like when they first met.

TIERRA JACKSON: My mother wasn't really around when my brother and I were young. She was in prison a lot, so I was with my aunt and her kids and my brother, about seven of us. We shared a room in one of the city's homeless shelters. As if high school is not hard enough itself, you know, the hour-and-a-half bus ride, it was kind of exhausting.

JOHN HORAN: And most people didn't know this, and we kept yelling at you for being late.

JACKSON: I was embarrassed. I was 14, and I was homeless. I didn't want people to look at me like, oh, you know, she needs charity. We have to take care of her. But there were things that I needed for my classes, and I was just like, we don't have money for this stuff. I went to my aunt, and I remember she sent me to school with notes that explained the situation. I think the first teacher I gave the note to came to school with this bag of things for me, and I didn't know how to accept it.

But after that, she never treated me differently, and I think that's one of the things I appreciated. I knew that I'm intelligent, you know. I have a brain with thoughts that matter.

HORAN: You're working your way through college with the extra burden of caring for your brother and caring for your mom.

JACKSON: I work part time for a financial management company. I go to school, and I help my brother with his homework. I try to do my homework. I don't really go out much, you know. I was so tired today. I stayed up all night studying. I wanted to go to bed so bad, but I can't because I have to get A's. I have to do well in school. It's the only thing that I have that can get me out. There's so many people who could, you know, be the next Bill Gates and change the world. But because they're poor or they're living in poverty, they're instantly written off because no one thinks they'll make it. I just want to make it.

MONTAGNE: That's Tierra Jackson with John Horan at StoryCorps in Chicago. Horan is now president of North Lawndale College Preparatory Charter High School, and Jackson is a junior at Roosevelt University. Their story will be archived, along with the other StoryCorps interviews at the American Folk Life Center at the Library of Congress.

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