For eight years, Brittany Wagner helped over 200 football players at East Mississippi Community College. Each player she worked with who advanced to the NFL earned his college degree. Up next, actress Courteney Cox will play her in a scripted series based on Wagner’s experience.
Wagner, who’s known for her catchphrase, “Do you have a pencil?” launched her own company called 10 Thousand Pencils, LLC. She travels the country inspiring students and teachers.
Read on as the athletic academic counselor, life coach, and motivational speaker shares her mission to ensure students have the proper equipment to excel in school.
What challenges do students face?
Poverty and our education system are the two biggest issues. Until we can close that gap of socioeconomic status and how we educate our children, I think we’re going to continue to face the same issues over and over again.
You’re a big advocate of junior colleges. Why?
Junior colleges, in my opinion, are really the bread and butter of higher education and educating the low socioeconomic class. So many of those students don’t have access to a university because they don’t have transportation, they don’t have the money, they don’t have the resources, or they don’t even know where to start.
Many schools these days give students iPads instead of textbooks. Is technology helping students?
It’s great that every student gets one. The problem with that is you don’t have Wi-Fi. If you’re a poor student and all of your schoolwork is to be done on this iPad, you go home and you don’t have Wi-Fi.
Technology is a good thing. It’s a blessing and a curse. When we had textbooks, we brought them home and did our homework on a sheet of paper and pencil. We equalize that for economic status. Everybody could take the textbook home. Most people had a sheet of paper; most people had a pencil. And these poor kids could still do their homework.
But we’ve made the gap bigger with technology. Even if you give them the technology, you’re not giving them the Wi-Fi and you’re not educating them on how to use this technology.
How did you handle this tech gap?
In east Mississippi, I had 200 athletes I was responsible for and I fought for three years for the school to get me 10 computers. We didn’t even have computer labs on our campus that stayed open past 5 o’clock. Here, we are a college servicing 5000 students and we don’t have 30 computers on our whole campus.
It was so hard for me to get that point across to our teachers and our administrators – that we cannot expect our students to do every single thing online when we are not going to provide them a computer with which to do it.
Why do you think the documentary is such a hit?
It shows you that here, these guys who come from nothing have these horrible life stories. But an adult looks them in the eye and says, “I believe in you. We’re going to do this.” And then takes them by the hand and then puts forth the work to get it done.