Ben Higgins

The most challenging thing I’ve ever had to do

Dallas-native and physics alumnus Ben Higgins, Class of 2014, on what it’s like to be the dean of an inner-city American high school during COVID-19.

NYUAD: Where did you go after graduation in 2014?

Ben Higgins: I started my career as a physics teacher in San Jose, California, and was teaching there for a little over five years. I wanted to go back home to Dallas to be close to my family so I put out some feelers, and I’ve been here for about a year and half.

NYUAD: What’s it like being in charge of a school during a pandemic?

This is by far the most challenging thing I’ve ever had to do in my life. About 85 percent of our students come from low-income families. COVID has heightened the inequities that were already there before. Some of our kids rely on school for a consistent meal and counseling, so being at home isn’t necessarily the best place for them because they’re not able to get those needs met. It’s been really challenging.

NYUAD: There’s so much division in the US right now from COVID-19 to personal politics to racial inequality. How do you have these conversations with American youth?

Our school is in the urban center of Dallas. When George Floyd was murdered, there were protests nearby, and we had to board up our school. Being so close to it all was a weight on everybody’s shoulders but I do think it provided an access point to have important conversations on race. We really want our kids to not shy away from talking about these issues and to know how to express their feelings. 

NYUAD: What part of NYUAD has stuck with you after all these years?

It’s the people. There’s an inextricable bond between us and it’s nice to know that I’ll always have that no matter what.