Taneeyah: 9th grade makes all the difference

National Scholars Program

Some adults outside Pathways say that 9th grade isn’t as important for college admissions as other academic years. But Taneeyah didn’t listen. Instead, she heeded the opposite advice from her Pathways teachers.

If we’re lucky, we’ve grown up with at least one influential grandparent who has helped nurture and guide us through our childhood and young adulthood. Pathways National Scholar Taneeyah, of Bergenfield, New Jersey, lost her beloved grandmother in June 2020. But in the short time the two of them spent together, Taneeyah was gifted with a strong spirit guide who is influencing her in her career and life choices.

“Her name was Maggie and she helped me decide that in my career, I want to help people,” Taneeyah says. “When she was sick before she died, I helped take care of her. She called me her little nurse.”

A severe bacterial infection led to Taneeyah’s grandmother requiring first one, then eventually her other leg to be amputated. In her last days as a double amputee, she imparted a wealth of knowledge and wisdom that continues to inspire and sustain Taneeyah.

“We talked about everything,” Taneeyah says, conveying the fond memories, smiling, on the Zoom screen. “She coached me on presenting myself to be a young lady. My middle name is Nicole, so she called me ‘Nicky.’ She’s the only one who has ever called me that.”

Taneeyah has gone on to do some coaching of her own. She has been a member of her school’s football cheer squad since her freshman year, and it just so happens that a local community center has a program for elementary and middle school kids to learn cheerleading. But the program needed a leader to guide them. Taneeyah answered the call.

“The kids love it,” Taneeyah says. “I teach them that in football cheer, you have to get the crowd going and present yourself with an energetic spirit. We also have to learn about the sport, to know which cheers match what the team is doing.”

When Taneeyah was a freshman, her school was online only, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She admits she was bored, but she didn’t let her boredom defeat her. So Taneeyah cheered during outdoor practices, and then an aunt told her about Pathways to College. Taneeyah applied, got accepted, and has been thriving.

“It was good to have an after-school program,” she says. “Having people in it who also want to attend college interested me. We’ve had kids from Indiana and New York in the Zoom sessions. We have great speakers. I also feel like I have a voice.”

Taneeyah’s ability to prepare for college with Scholars from other states is one goal of the Pathways National Scholars Program, which uses the same, proven Pathways curriculum in a fully virtual program.

Taneeyah says she hopes her Pathways Scholar cohort can move beyond the chat group they’ve created, and the Zoom sessions, and one day meet face-to-face.

“We all get along very well,” she says. “We talk about current issues and problems. We agree on many things, but sometimes we may agree to disagree. When I’m in the Zoom meetings, I wish we were all in the same setting so we could see each other and get to know each other’s personalities. Having the support system of Pathways to College and having people to talk to was very nice.”

Taneeyah says she has heard some adults outside Pathways say that 9th grade isn’t as important for college admissions as other academic years. But she didn’t listen. Instead, she heeded the opposite advice from her Pathways teachers.

“They tell you 9th [grade] makes all the difference,” Taneeyah says. “Pathways teachers tell you that you should work hard and establish your GPA, so you can create a good résumé. College is something I’m striving for. Unfortunately, not too many people I know outside of Pathways want to go to college.”

But beyond joining her school’s student council and establishing a solid GPA in her classes, Taneeyah has let her curiosity lead her to taking up and embracing an unexpected pastime. A coach encouraged her to try out for the school’s golf team and Taneeyah went for it — and after an initial hiccup, stayed with it.

“Golf takes a lot of concentration and on my first day, I practiced driving the ball and I wasn’t getting much height,” Taneeyah recalls with a smile. “I barely made it 10 yards. But on the next day, I did surprisingly well, and I was hitting balls 50 yards. My coach, who was teaching me how to swing, keep my eye on the ball, and my footwork, was shocked.”

Now, Taneeyah loves to see how far she can drive the ball, and even successfully convinced a friend to also try out for the team.

Still, on the horizon, Taneeyah has her eye on applying to at least two specific, four-year universities, Drexel and Northeastern. Not surprisingly, it’s those schools’ nursing programs that attract her.

“I want to work with children,” says Taneeyah, who has a younger brother and a 6-year-old girl to whom she’s an unofficial godsister. “I’m thinking I might like to be a pediatric nurse.”

And just as her late grandmother used to do for her, Taneeyah is keen on being a good role model to her godsister.

“I have to watch myself around her,” Taneeyah says. “She looks up to me and I have to coach her and set a good example.”