In a large urban district's ELA classrooms, an academic vocabulary intervention designed to improve linguistically diverse 6th-graders’ reading and language skills was implemented and evaluated. These classrooms were characterized by high numbers of struggling readers, and linguistic diversity was the norm. As part of the evaluation, this study focuses on students’ perspectives of the intervention, with the goal of shedding light on how it might have influenced their efforts toward academic success. We conducted 20 focus groups following students’ participation in the program, gaining insights that bear on the dual challenge of creating a motivating and rigorous learning environment. Students linked the experience with increased academic confidence, and, in turn, academic motivation. They believed it was the challenging learning opportunities embedded in an instructional cycle that promoted deep knowledge building that helped them to be, and feel, academically successful.