%286%left%“Latitude and longitude is hard,” Ms. Eustis warns as she begins her lesson. “Atlases in front, please. Stephanie is drowning, and we need to save her. You got your GPS brains on?” The seventh graders nod and lean closer to hear Stephanie’s imaginary coordinates.
Sarah Eustis ’96 teaches social studies at Link Community School, a small, private middle school in economically depressed Newark, N.J. The school’s weighty mission is to turn out students prepared for private high school—and equipped with scholarship money. “We have to take the kids from a low level to a very high level in two years,” Eustis said. “Newark is a hard place for a kid to grow up. We want to allow the kids opportunities to leave or to change Newark.”
Eustis grew up in Waterville on the edge of the Colby campus and first attended Colby at the age of 3—as a student at Colby’s nursery school. Fifteen years later she resumed her education there as an American studies major and played on the women’s soccer team. “Colby renewed my love for learning that I had lost in high school,” she said. “I felt respected by my professors.”
As a senior, Eustis discovered that she grasped concepts best when teaching them to her classmates: “I would get such pleasure if people understood me.” After graduation she followed that model and landed a job at a private school in Albuquerque, N.M., where she taught history and coached soccer. “The key was holding the girls to high expectations while supporting and caring for them,” she said.
The highlight of living in the Southwest for Eustis was outdoor exploration. She skied through winters and trained for marathons and triathlons. But after four years in the classroom, she felt she had grown as much as she could on her own and decided to apply to graduate school. “I chose Brown, but deferred for a year,” she said.
Eustis deferred to the highway: she bought a Volkswagen camper, packed up her dog, Ellie, and spent eight months traveling around the perimeter of the U.S. “Every day I was learning new things and meeting new people. I never felt alone,” she said. “I could go to a cafe or to a beach and strike up a conversation.”
%287%right%At the end of her journey, she sold her van and headed to Brown for 11 months of intense teacher training. She then looked for a teaching position in “a place where getting an education was a hard thing to do.” Link met her criteria. Last year she threw herself into the culture of the school, where teachers hold themselves and each other to exceedingly high standards. Eustis consistently worked 13-hour days.
By spring, she was overwhelmed. She consulted with a few of her Brown professors. “They said, ‘yes, that’s the problem with inner-city schools; teachers burn out,’ and I didn’t want to be that person that burns out.” While this year she’s learned to strive for a more balanced lifestyle, Eustis still goes above and beyond: when no one at the school could legally drive the yellow school bus to field trips and sports games, she obtained a commercial bus driver’s license.
Back in her classroom, the bell rings. “I’m here after school if anyone has questions about homework,” Eustis says. A wiry boy with an Afro throws his coat on the floor in his rush to get to his next class. “What kind of respect does that show for your clothes and my classroom?” she asks. He sheepishly retreats and hangs up his coat. “Thank you,” she says. “And I like your new haircut.”
Eustis infuses the disciplined structure of her classroom with positive reinforcement. “But you can’t be sticky-sweet,” she says. “They know when you are real and not real.” Carlin Flora