By Jeff Shearer, Senior Writer
With her energy and intellect, Andrea Black would have undoubtedly soared through law school.
But her passion for education won out over a legal career. And the scholars Andrea serves as principal of Schmid Elementary School in her hometown of Chicago are better for it.
Andrea, a first-generation college graduate, grew up facing many of the same challenges as her students.
"Where you're from should not indicate where you can go," she said. "I know how going onto a college campus changes your life!"
Andrea visited Auburn this week for the second time in the past five months, the guest of Director of Athletics Jay Jacobs.
Her visit last September left an indelible impression on both Schmid Elementary and Auburn University.
The partnership began last summer, when Mrs. Quinlan Matthew's second-grade class produced a video showcasing what her students learned about Auburn during Schmid's college week.
The video eventually made its way to Auburn, prompting an invitation last fall to Matthew's 24 scholars and their chaperones.
"We brought these scholars here thinking we would inspire them," Jacobs said. "Quite frankly, they inspired us."
In September, after riding horses, participating in Tiger Walk and being recognized on the field during an overtime football win, the scholars, now third graders, returned to Chicago.
But they never really left Auburn.
"I have one scholar," Andrea said. "He has an arm full of orange and blue Auburn bracelets, and he wears them every single day."
For the scholars at Schmid, wearing Auburn gear comes in handy, especially if all of the school uniforms are in the laundry.
"I even give them passes when they'll come to school and they don't have on their uniform. And they'll say, 'Ms. Black, I have on an Auburn t-shirt. Look!' And I'll say, 'Okay, that's fine.' It has become part of their uniform.
"And it really has touched them. And I don't see them letting go of that excitement for a long time to come."
During her first visit to Auburn, Principal Black acquired an ally.
Her new helper doesn't say much, but still communicates very effectively, connecting with the Schmid scholars like no one else.
"I use Aubie as a leverage point with the third graders all the time," she said. "They're kids. Occasionally they'll make mistakes, and I'll say, 'Do you think Aubie would be happy with your behavior right now? I don't think Aubie would like this.'"
Does it work?
"It works every time," she said. "I'll say, 'We might take another trip. I don't think I'll want to take scholars who are misbehaving on another trip.' They'll say, 'I'll get it together. I promise I will.'"
When Andrea watches videos from the Schmid scholars' visit, she makes sure to have tissues nearby.
"One scholar brought us all to tears," Black said. "When he said, 'I have to go to college, because if I don't, then I'll miss out on all the fun.' That is a lasting impression for a child. That sticks. And it really has stuck with them."
The sweet memories of a magical trip will always be there.
But for Andrea, it's what happens next to the Class of 2025 that matters most.
While Aubie is her silent teammate at Schmid, Jay Jacobs is her vocal advocate at Auburn.
In his "16 for '16" address, Jay called on Auburn to continue supporting Schmid.
"I want to challenge the Auburn family to do more," he said.
Jay wants to work with Auburn to create a plan that provides scholarships a decade from now for qualifying Schmid students who made the first visit.
"We're going to find a way so they can come to Auburn not only for a few days, but for four years," he said.
When that happens, Black promises to return.
"I would want to be there. If any of the scholars enrolled here. I would make it my job, my duty to be here to make sure they were set off right. To congratulate them. To shake their hand. To buy a book. Whatever I need to do, because it's just that important," she said.
For an educator, there's no higher honor than seeing your students succeed.
"That would be beyond awesome for me. Them accessing college for me solidifies why I got into this work. I know what it can do for a scholar. Especially if that wasn't an experience anyone in your family or your close-knit community has shared. If I would have had just the smallest input into that success, that would mean the world to me."
"What we learned from Schmid, if you want to change the world, change a child," Jacobs said. "Inspire a child. Create hope in a child."
"Let's keep inspiring children," Andrea said. "Let's make a difference. Let's change the fabric of this nation where we have a passionate, educated community of scholars no matter where you come from."
Auburn and Schmid.
To be continued. In the fall of '25.