(If you take the time to read anything on my blog I sincerely hope it’s this)
Last year, I had a 5th grade student named Abu. In Americorps, we would call students who we felt genuinely impacted us our “starfish”. When I first joined his classroom, he was reading at a 2nd grade level. He had behavioral issues and found it difficult to connect with adults. He would pretend to cry or be sick during ELA lessons. The year had ups & downs but we made gradual improvements, soon he was asking to sit out during recess so we could complete our literacy program. Eventually, I convinced him to try out for the school play. He went from only wanting to audition in front of me because he was too scared to read the script out loud, to becoming the star of our school-wide rendition of “Fame Jr.”
At the end of the year, I gave individualized books to each of my students, based on the journey and strides they had made that year. I wrote notes inside the covers to emulate how much each of the students had personally impacted me and my own growth. For Abu, I chose “The One and Only Ivan”, a story of an elephant who lives in a shopping mall. The elephant doesn’t realize his own ability to create monumental change until he sees a baby elephant being held in the same captivity. I told Abu that it wasn’t until I met him and saw how he overcame his circumstances that I took a step back and realized that I could overcome my own. Abu told me that he never expected an adult to care so much about his future. This broke my heart.
I mention this experience because it was a pivotal of growth for me. When I found out about my mother’s tumor this past year, I realized it only increased my drive to give my students a better, more compassionate environment to walk into everyday at school. Previously, I had the mentality that all of this external stuff was happening and I was the victim. However, now my mentality is that it is all happening and I can use that as motivation towards making sure children don’t have to deal with the same issues.
After my past two years working in high-need schools in New York, what struck me most was to see how quickly and brilliantly students we deem “at-risk” can flourish when allotted the appropriate amount of attention and dedication. When they know that there is an adult who believes in them and trusts they can be successful. The past two years have really solidified that I want to work towards making a change in education policy.
Every student, no matter race or economic status, deserves a right to the best education this country can provide them.
I’ve learned that for several students, especially those in high-need communities, the 8 hours at school can be the calmest of their day. Sometimes it’s all the kids have to look forward to. Sometimes teachers and school leaders are the only adults they feel like actually care about them.
I firmly believe that students in high-need communities need to be exposed to school leaders and policy-makers who they can relate to and identify with. This shows the students that there are minorities who look like them that are working toward great things and they can too. That their identities are in no way a restriction on what they can achieve, but rather a strength in helping to accomplish those goals.
I want to make sure children living in these communities who are already facing insurmountable impediments to their education: poverty, homelessness, mental health issues not only have equity in education but also the same experiential learning (field trips/extracurriculars) as their peers across the city.
I want to work towards ensuring they receive extra behavioral support to cope with any external factors they may be facing In order to make sure there are no obstacles to achieving their full educational potential.
So that being said, Abu was my “starfish“. I sincerely hope I can be the “starfish” in the lives of my students and help them on the journey to realizing how valuable each of their voices are.
→ I created this website to share my journey of exploring NYC/abroad & to serve as a tool for documenting my experiences and resources in education.
- Current Role: Community Relations Coordinator at SA Schools which rank in the top 1% (Math) & top 2% (ELA) in New York State, while serving children with a 70% poverty rate. Acting as the current McKinney-Vento liaison, making sure the students who are living in shelters have the resources they need to thrive during the school day.
- Previous Roles: AmeriCorps teacher for under-served communities in NYC, PTV World News