What was your journey to your current position?
This is my 16th year in education. I was a Middle School English Language Arts teacher, and I realized that many of my students were struggling readers. I wanted to share great literature with them like Shakespeare, Byron, and Shelley, but they couldn’t read any of it. I didn’t know how to help them because at the time, I had only taken coursework in literature and composition, not reading.
I started taking coursework in reading as I was finishing my master’s in Library Information Science. While I was a librarian at a community college, I also taught remedial reading courses to adults and fell in love with teaching struggling readers. I became fascinated by the process of language acquisition.
What do you like about Social Studies?
Social Studies has always been my favorite subject, even in elementary school. During vacations, I would always ask my parents if we could go to a historical site, like a battlefield or a museum. I have always been fascinated by how we got to where we are now. There are so many stories that too few of us know about.
What has been your journey to your current position?
I started teaching in Fairfax County in Vienna, Virginia because the graduate program I was involved with at George Washington University had a partnership with that county. I taught there for 3 years full-time and really enjoyed it, but my passion was to serve the communities in the surrounding areas that have traditionally been underserved. I taught at Friendship Collegiate for a couple of years and became the department chair of Social Studies there. Then I became an instructional specialist. After that, I went to Technology Preparatory, where I was the assistant principal for 2 years. This is my second year as the director of Social Studies at Friendship.
I did not start out in education. I started in the media working for various TV shows, but I felt like I wasn’t fulfilling my purpose. So I quit the TV station and went to school. I got a master’s degree in public policy, and I worked for a brief time on Capitol Hill.
That also wasn’t the right fit for me though. My sister asked me to substitute teach at her school. My sister is a science teacher, and my mother had been a teacher for years. She then became a principal and the founder of a Christian academy. My parents told me, “You were fighting it. You should have been [teaching] this whole time.” Eventually the subbing led to a full-time teaching position, and here I am still teaching 12 years later.
What was it that made you realize that you should teach?
I like to see the joy on my students faces when they get excited about reading, understanding the content, and interpreting it in different ways. I love giving the gift of reading. At the beginning of the school year, I gave each scholar a book with a bow on it. I call books “babies,” and I tell my students to treat them with so much love and care and to be gentle with them. They kind of get a kick out of that.
Can you talk about your journey to becoming Resident Principal at Technology Preparatory High?
When I was in college I thought I would become a doctor, so I majored in biology and planned to go to medical school. After more research, I found that I loved education and really wanted to teach.
My first teaching position was in Prince George’s County. I learned about Friendship Public Charter School and interviewed at Friendship Blow Pierce, where I taught for three years. I was the Department Chair for Science and was named the 2010 Blow Pierce Teacher of the Year. I went on to become an Instructional Coach at Friendship Collegiate Academy. After that, I became Academy Director and helped design the Health Sciences Academy as part of our National Academy Foundation grant. At Friendship Collegiate Academy students are able to learn about many different fields. There are academies for engineering, IT and health sciences. Now I am the Resident Principal at Technology Preparatory High. I am currently pursuing a doctorate degree in Educational Leadership from Bowie State University.
What advice would you give a fellow leader or teacher?
Whether you’re a principal or a teacher, it’s very important to find out why you want to be a teacher or leader. As a leader, it’s important to have a clear understanding of the vision and to communicate this to staff, offer support and hold people accountable. Teachers must do the same for their students. You must be driven by this vision every day and every decision you make should be informed by data, too. At the end of the day, you have to be passionate about what you do.
What do you like most about teaching?
I have always enjoyed being around children. They are honest, genuine and kind. I grew up in suburban New Jersey, and being at Blow Pierce, in Northeast D.C., has been a new experience. I am deeply passionate about giving my second grade scholars the same opportunities I have had.
Last year, one of my students was reading below grade level. I knew it had a lot to do with her confidence. She didn’t believe in herself. I developed a relationship with the student and highlighted her successes in front of her peers. I worked with her after school every day, and she showed tremendous growth. She loves reading now and raises her hand during class. The positive reinforcement really went a long way.
What do you like about Friendship Blow Pierce?
It’s a privilege for me to teach the youth in this community and to see the amazing things that they are capable of achieving. We have many magnificent teachers. I think it’s a special place, and I cherish the relationships that I have developed with the teachers, families and students in this neighborhood. I get a lot of great information from Ms. Gibson – she has a wealth of knowledge and excellent resources. Mr. Milton is awesome with classroom management and differentiating instruction. Ms. Tackie is an expert in pedagogy. I consider these three teachers to be my mentors. Additionally, I’d like to thank Mr. Spears for always pushing me to achieve my full potential and for always believing in me.
What has your journey been like to your current position as Principal at Friendship Collegiate?
I started out as a history teacher at Frederick Douglass in Harlem. After that, I was accepted into New Leaders for New Schools. My first job as an administrator was assistant principal in the South Bronx at Eagle Academy. I was tasked with changing the culture at the lower school. There were a lot of moving pieces, and that’s where I developed as an administrator. IDEA Public Charter School in Texas then gave me the opportunity to launch a new school. It was at a 98% poverty rate and I brought it to one of the top 25% academically performing schools in the state. It was a great experience, but I longed for the northeast, so I decided to come to Friendship Public Charter School.
What strategies have led to the most success?
Systems, school culture and teacher accountability. Frederick Douglass in Harlem was a school with a 90% plus poverty rate and 100% of our kids went to college every year. We created a culture where no matter what, we were going to get these kids to and through college. We had to think outside of the box. By the time our kids left eighth grade, whether by staying with us for high school or going elsewhere, they had taken upper level classes and four high school exams. Our middle school students are often able to complete more rigorous work and this is what set them up for success in high school, college, and throughout life.
At 6pm, when I was leaving the school building, there were often 800 out of 1400 kids participating in extracurricular activities. Even if their parents were working multiple jobs and not at home, students were in school and building character, self-esteem and learning how to interact with others. This is what I experienced at Frederick Douglass and sought to recreate in San Antonio.
Describe the journey to your current role as Director of Early Childhood Education.
I started teaching with Teach for America right out of college, and was a language arts teacher in Hawaii for two years. I moved to Washington D.C. and taught at KIPP DC for one year. In 2011, I was accepted into the New Leaders program and became assistant principal at Friendship Woodridge. The next year I became a principal at Apple Tree, an early learning public charter school. During my fourth year, I received the Washington Post’s Principal of the Year Award. Shortly after, I rejoined Friendship to oversee the Early Childhood Education department.
What strategies would you recommend for a new Pre-K teacher?
The most important strategy is to keep kids engaged with your enthusiasm. If you act like the topic is the most exciting thing in the world, they will often match your energy. Move quickly from activity to activity. This will also keep them engaged. Lastly, use different modalities and keep your instruction very visual.
Do you have a favorite year of teaching?
My second year of teaching was my most meaningful. I was teaching middle school language arts. During that year, I was assigned the lowest performing students in the school. My supervisor told me, “Put them on the right track. I think you can do it.” It was daunting and difficult at first. The students did not initially have confidence in themselves, especially because the students in the class next door were considered the “advanced” and “smart” class.
What has been your path to becoming principal at Friendship Woodridge International?
My family is from Nigeria and I was also born there. In that country, after you graduate from college, you are expected to complete one year of service. My parents wanted me to continue that practice here in the United States. After graduating from college, I had to decide if I wanted to do something related to science, which I had been doing my whole life to prepare for medicine, or if I should I do something different. Teach for America recruited me at the University of Texas at Austin, and that is what brought me to D.C.
Teach For America was phenomenal. The program validated and solidified my spirit of advocacy and helped me focus on closing the achievement gap. While teaching, my principal recommended that I enter the New Leaders program, a program which prepares teachers to become school leaders.
I came to Friendship Woodridge during my first year as a resident principal. After that I decided that I wanted to be an assistant principal for a few years before ascending to a principal position. A couple of years after I started at Woodridge as the assistant principal, we soon became a Tier 1 school and gained International Baccalaureate authorization. It was hard work, but also “heart” work.
How did you become a Spanish teacher at Friendship?
I studied philosophy and literature in the Dominican Republic, where I am from. That’s where I started teaching. After that, I came to the United States and started medical school at Howard University, here in D.C. After two semesters, I realized I didn’t want to be a doctor. I wanted to be a teacher, like my grandmother.
This is my twenty-fifth year of teaching, and I have enjoyed every single day. It is truly rewarding to know you are making a difference and encouraging children. I want to remind them that there is no limit to what they can achieve if they remain focused on their education.
What is your approach to teaching Spanish?
I love it! There are 21 Spanish speaking countries, and I pick two or three every quarter to focus on. In addition to learning the Spanish language, it is important for scholars to learn about the food, music, sports, art and religion of different countries. We compare different cultures to the United States. It helps children to develop a broader perspective, and ultimately, a greater acceptance and appreciation for those who are different.
I also enjoy instilling a sense of pride in my native Spanish-speaking students. Sometimes they are shy about speaking their language. Hispanic Heritage Month is from September 15th to October 15th. It is an opportunity to remind our native Spanish-speaking students of our rich culture, our roots and to share our culture with classmates. I invite parents to come in and speak and read in Spanish with students.
What is your background in education?
I have been in education for ten years. I taught in a K-12 and higher education setting, then I worked in education policy, and now I work in administration. I love working to ensure that every child receives a world-class education, regardless of their family background or where they’re from. I am proof that when adults care enough, all children can succeed. As a junior in high school, I dropped out. I had a scholarship to a private school in New York City, and then I dropped out. I was that youth sleeping on the city metro and park benches.
How did you get back on track with your studies?
I had people who supported me — families, stakeholders, and friends in my life invested in my education. I was fortunate. Those who helped me get the scholarship helped me to get back on track. At the time, I didn’t even have a cell phone, so they had to find me in the park. That experience shaped me. It is why I can empathize with some of our scholars. I want to prevent them from going through what I went through. Sometimes that means giving them that extra ten minutes, a ride home, a home visit, or whatever is needed. It is important to go the extra mile for students who are struggling and to show that you care.
I had a student, Joseph, who got into a lot of trouble when I was a first-year principal. He was a student that some might even give up on – but for me, it was important to make a personal connection. When you see how kids live, it is easier to put yourself in their shoes. I went to his house and met with his family. He was not a bad student. He just needed to be shown a different path to success. He ended up on our honor roll and as a student ambassador for our campus.
What do you do at Friendship?
I’m the Director of Parent Relations. I help connect parents to resources within and outside of Friendship. One initiative that I am proud of is the re-launch and expansion of Parent University, which offers workshops for parents. There are always opportunities for us to be better parents.
What has been an especially successful workshop?
Our first workshop was about redirecting children’s behavior. The focus of this workshop was on communication for results, rather than to simply express frustration. Sometimes we need to regroup, get ourselves together, and then communicate. Another successful workshop was about how to deal with grief and support children with school during difficult times.
What was your path to becoming Director of Parent Relations?
I have always admired teachers. When my mother asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I responded, “A teacher!” Then, I had my son and realized I could only work with one child at a time. I have always been in this environment, I just never went into the classroom.
My passion is for education, and also for families. I was born and raised in D.C., and I had people who believed in me. Because I had active parents in my life, I was able to experience so much. I also graduated as valedictorian of Friendship Collegiate in 2003. I am happy to be part of Friendship again and to support our families.
What has been your journey to becoming an Math Instructional Specialist at Armstrong? Did you start as a teacher?
Yes, and the journey began when I was younger. I was a horrible math student, but when math made sense, I loved it. I remember loving the order of operations and that it turned into a pyramid at the end. It was actually my struggle with math that made me a great math teacher. I understood where kids could go wrong.
Do you have any tips for math teachers?
Do the work as if you were one of your students, and then ask yourself, “What do I need to do to teach this?”
You mentioned Harry Potter inspired you. How?
I listened to the Harry Potter series last year. I love that Hogwarts is a magical and mystical place, and in every single classroom the learning is hands on. I want our classrooms to look like that–a place where kids work together to apply the math.
What do you love about working at Friendship?
I love seeing children walk through our doors and have the same opportunities as students in Georgetown. They need to know you care about them and you have high expectations because they can do it.
What was your journey to your current role as Business Manager?
I grew up on Minnesota Avenue, and attended Friendship Collegiate Academy. Collegiate prepared me for college because the structure was similar and the classes were rigorous. I pursued a Bachelor’s in Finance Management and a Masters in Business Administration–both at Trinity Washington University.
While completing my graduate program, I was also working at Friendship. I started as an intern, then an administrative assistant, and after that, a program manager. While working full time, I was also attending graduate school. I arrived at Friendship at 6:00 a.m. to complete class homework, then worked from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and then evening classes started at 6:30 p.m. I had a full schedule! Now I work at Technology Preparatory Middle as Business Services Coordinator.
What advice do you have for students?
Frequently students and interns approach me (because I look like I’m their age)! I like to chat and answer their questions. Often my advice is this:
1. Remember everything you do throughout school matters. Don’t overlook the importance of your freshman and sophomore years–you are setting the foundation for your future success!
2.Talk to people. You never know what they have accomplished and how they might be able to help.
I grew up in Northeast Washington, D.C., and I went to Friendship Blow Pierce and then Collegiate Academy. Throughout my educational journey, Friendship teachers always went above and beyond. My only plan was to finish high school, but our teachers pushed us to apply for college. With their support, I decided to go to Bennett College for Women (on a full scholarship)!
Even once I started Bennett, Friendship teachers continued to support me – coming down to Bennett to help me settle in and sending care packages during finals week. Several Friendship teachers even attended my graduate school graduation in 2015.
Now I work within the HR department as a Talent Acquisition Coordinator. I love it because I am able to meet different people and give back to the Friendship community…Do you know someone who might be a great fit for one of our opportunities? Please let me know!