In today's podcast Jason and I had a big conversation with Ben Marcovitz who lives with his wife Meredith in New Orleans and New York, NY with their three children, Zoe, Ronan and Max. Ben is an entrepreneur, nonprofit leader, leadership consultant, and executive coach. As the Founder and CEO of Collegiate Academies (CA), Ben currently leads a network of innovative public high schools in New Orleans and Baton Rouge, Louisiana serving the most disadvantaged children in our nation. Collegiate Academies’ student populations have the highest rates of poverty, disability, incarceration, and academic deficit in the state, yet over 90 percent of Collegiate Academies students get into college.The talent and development practices that fuel CA’s success have long brought Ben into other sectors as a consultant and executive coach. His clients include finance and technology companies, philanthropies, design firms, as well as numerous school networks and nonprofits across the nation. Ben believes strongly that every human being can achieve far beyond typical expectations, and that our world can improve dramatically when we put this belief into practice with both our children and our employees.
Ben shared that his first child, Zoe, was diagnosed with a heart defect in utero when Meredith was about five months pregnant. The couple understood that their baby would have to have open heart surgery days after birth. The surgery was successful as far as Zoe's heart, but she had a massive stroke during the surgery, so several weeks later, they were informed that their daughter would have serious and perhaps fatal developmental disabilities. Ben describes himself at this time as feeling despair, a despair over an outcome that would ultimately not come out. When asked how his family is doing now, seven years later, he said, "I think what I consider to be the Triumph is that, you know, we've seen things through a lens of despair that have not have not born true. And so we have such a history now of despairing about things, and then recognizing later that they turned out better than we imagined."
Nonetheless, he admitted that his family feels tremendous stress now, so we talked a bit about our vulnerability, about the dramatic changes that we've all experienced and about how not just our lives but our very identities are up-ended and re-shaped when we become parent caregivers. We talked about sibling issues, too, and about our encounters with our children "in the wild" when we are vulnerable to people's stares and sometimes outsized expectations of our abilities to cope. When other parents of neurotypical children tell Ben “I could never do what you do,” Ben’s response is, “That’s how I feel, too.” In talking about these and other challenges, Ben explained that he “had so little faith in his own honest reactions” to his daughter’s prognosis that he looked for exemplars to follow, feeling unable to save his own child and blaming himself for it. Looking back, Ben says that the experience forced him into a whole new identity.
We talked about what true inclusion means or aspires to being and then began discussing Ben's work as an educator and how his role as father and caregiver to a child with complex medical needs is now influencing his work. As the founder and CEO of Collegiate Academies, Ben has worked to redefine the measurements of success in schools. He explains that his organization has stopped planning their school in a way that was responsive to the need right in front of them and started planning from the perspective of "if every single kid achieved at an outrageous level that their current situation would not predict, what did that mean we had done in our program to make that happen, and we started building our program that way." He adds, "That is definitely not a lens through which I would have seen school, if I hadn't been put in that position myself with no choice in the matter and forced to essentially build an inclusive home."
It was such an intense and beautiful conversation about vulnerability and honesty and introspection and identity and work and fatherhood and -- well -- you should just listen to it.
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A double date with a family going through some of the same challenges.
Kids Beyond Limits
By Anat Baniel
Most Inspirational Person/Group
The students Ben has worked with for over a decade who continually show not just resilience but extreme joy in extremely daunting struggles.