Stronger Than Her Stereotype

AP English teacher working on PhD understands struggles because she’s been there

Darkness crowded the room, but the girl couldn’t sleep. She was far too excited. She would get to attend a new school tomorrow, the Harrell Accelerated Learning Center. She planned for it to be her gateway into more education.

About six years later, English teacher Heather Preston thought back on her education. A bachelor’s in Psychology won’t be enough now, so she chooses books instead, or rather, English. She also decides that she will pursue her doctorate, going to Harrell won’t change that.

She gives examples that I am able to understand, and I really like that.”

— Karla Gonzalez, 12

“I was behind on credits,” Preston said. “I think the single most contributing factor is school always came easy to me. As I started getting older, I started getting bored.”

Preston said she then shut down and stopped caring. She knew that she would learn better in a non-traditional environment. Harrell was her answer.

“I was fortunate that my parents wanted to support me,” Preston said. “My parents bought me a house so I could go to school [at Harrell].”

At Harrell, Preston said she could learn at her own pace and test out of subjects she already knew or understood. She even became interested in some of the school’s extra-curricular activities.

“I was passionate about JROTC and became the battalion commander,” Preston said. “I found my interest in learning again, which I had lost previously. But it’s not the same experience as high school.”

After graduation, Preston headed to Vernon College with every intention of majoring in psychology. She was not prepared for college and dropped out two years later.

I’ve been exposed to lots of stuff I would not have read without her or that class.”

— Emily Frerich, 12

“I got married and had two kids,” Preston said. “I had a family to support.”

That family led her back to college. She earned a bachelor’s and master’s in English from MSU. Now she’s pursuing her Doctorate of Educational Leadership through a UNT-MSU cohort program.

“I would say that I use [the Harrell] story sometimes on purpose to get people to think beyond stereotypes,” Preston said. “I’m very open about it with my students.”

After receiving her bachelor’s degree, Preston went on to become a teacher at Rider.

“I love knowledge,” Preston said. “I feel that education is one of the most important aspects of our society.”

Preston has not forgotten what made her go to Harrell, though, and does her best to keep her students involved.

“Because of my experience, I’m trying to make sure nobody gets lost,” Preston said. “I think it’s important to find something you enjoy. I think we all have to find our passion and purpose in life. I think if students are struggling they should seek help.”

Preston has devoted her life to school. She understands what resulted in her detour, and hopes to help students figure out both what they want to do and how to stay invested.

“Life is funny,” Preston said. “I honestly find myself surprised at being here because I didn’t look back on my years of high school with fondness. But, at this point, I can’t imagine myself anywhere else.”