I say to the kids all the time, “The only difference between you and me is the bow tie I wear.” This means, “I was once in your shoes, I was once in your situation. I’m no different than you are.” I hope I can be a glimmer of hope for you and that you can join me one day.
What were you doing before you entered education?
I was actually working in corporate America. I met a guy who became a great friend of mine and a mentor. He was an Assistant Principal, and I was looking for a career change. He asked me if I’d ever thought about teaching. At first I said, “I don’t think teaching is my thing…” However, I decided to start teaching in 2005, and it’s been a rewarding journey.
I started as a Business Education teacher in Baltimore County. I taught there for a couple of years. Then I worked at a small HBCU in East Texas as a Dean of Students. But something just drew me back to K12. It’s more hands-on. You can see an immediate impact. When I was in the higher ed arena and working with much older students – adults – it was harder for me to see the impact I was making. I eventually did, but it took longer.
I’ve noticed that small gestures affect younger students more profoundly. Something as simple as a child coming into the building and me saying “Good morning” lights up their face. Being able to encourage high school students is rewarding for me.
My EdD is in higher education leadership. I tell people that I’ve been on the giving side of sending kids off to college, and on the receiving side of supporting kids who have just graduated.
Can you talk about your current position?
I am the liaison between students and staff. SSST stands for “student staff support team.” I focus primarily on seeing what kind of support and interventions can be provided for our scholars on a daily basis. I offer academic, social, and attendance interventions. I also support scholars who are labeled as homeless.
I started out as a Dean of Students. I dealt with student behavior interventions and tried to foster a supportive culture for our scholars throughout the building. From there, I became the attendance and truancy officer, seeing what kind of support and interventions I could offer the entire school to ensure students attended classes and were in school every day to learn. When our principal, Dr. Jones, came back to Collegiate two years ago, she asked me if I’d like to expand my role as SSST coordinator by offering behavioral, attendance, and social-emotional support.
What suggestions would you offer to teachers and other school staff to make students in special situations – such as like being homeless – to feel more comfortable?
I would say that it’s important for teachers and staff to know who their students are, and then just build a rapport or a relationship with them. This is how we can best support scholars when they are dealing with homelessness and the grief associated with it. It’s important to make scholars feel comfortable about sharing this information with me and my team. It’s the only way we can support them and ensure that no scholar slips through the cracks.
So, we offer many different kinds of support and partner with different agencies throughout the city that help displaced families. We might help them secure housing and furniture, or help them get a school uniform. We work to remove any barrier that exists between the scholar and their education
What have you found to be effective for helping students improve their attendance and engagement?
It’s helpful to address truancy on the very first day of school, so that it makes it easier to navigate your year. Every day we track attendance, make phone calls, and visit as needed.
If we find, for example, that a scholar is missing class because she was diagnosed with diabetes, we can offer specific support.
I love being able to support scholars. Some of them are shocked to see that someone actually cares and is there to support them. For me, as a career-changer who entered education later in life, the work is deeply rewarding. I want to go the extra mile to support these scholars. When they graduate, it’s extremely fulfilling.
I love the mission and what Friendship stands for. I love the people I work with. I love the environment and how I’m able to make an impact on the kids.
I say to the kids all the time, “The only difference between you and me is the bow tie I wear.” This means, “I was once in your shoes, I was once in your situation. I’m no different than you are.” I hope I can be a glimmer of hope for you and that you can join me one day. We just have to get you through these challenges first.”
What has it been like to work remotely during the pandemic?
It has definitely been challenging, especially for those of us who work on the student support services side. Not being able to connect with our scholars as we have been accustomed to for so long was really hard for me. We had to come up with new and innovative ways to keep scholars engaged virtually as well during this trying time. I do think that I find myself doing more work at home than I would have if I were in the building. I am constantly working in the evenings because I am always thinking of something I need to pick up and finish.
What are your hopes for the fall?
My hope for the fall is that we make the best decisions to serve not only our students, but also our staff. The goal is to keep everyone safe but still engage in an educational process that best serves all of our scholars. I believe that as a network we did a herculean job of transitioning to distance learning quickly. Let’s keep the same momentum going to provide access and equity to education for all of our scholars.
Is there a fun fact you’d like to share?
My favorite city is Paris, France. I love the old architecture, the buildings, and the people. I used to have an Eiffel Tower statue on my desk. When kids came in, they would ask, “You’ve actually been there?” I tell them, “Yes, it’s a wonderful place. You can go, too.”