One teacher can make a difference

Post contributed by Karen Partyka

I follow on Facebook a page called Humans of New York and this site introduces you to different people in New York and they tell a little about their life. New York is full of a huge variety of people so there are many interesting stories and I enjoy the variety. On 20th January they introduced us to Vidal who is a young student. Vidal was asked who influenced his life the most, his reply was:

“My principal, Ms. Lopez.”

“How has she influenced you?”

“When we get in trouble, she doesn’t suspend us. She calls us to her office and explains to us how society was built down around us. And she tells us that each time somebody fails out of school, a new jail cell gets built. And one time she made every student stand up, one at a time, and she told each one of us that we matter.”

NY

I, along with many thousand people around the world read what Vidal said and was moved, shocked and surprised to see a young boy being able to articulate and understand what his principal was doing for him and his peers. As a teacher myself I thought about Mrs Lopez and what an example she was and how I could learn from her. The people who run the Facebook page then went to find Mrs Lopez a few days later. Her school is in Brownsville, Brooklyn, which is a very difficult area of New York. They interviewed Mrs Lopez about what Vidal had said and this is her reply:

“This is a neighborhood that doesn’t necessarily expect much from our children, so at Mott Hall Bridges Academy we set our expectations very high. We don’t call the children ‘students,’ we call them ‘scholars.’ Our color is purple, our scholars wear purple and so do our staff, because purple is the color of royalty. I want my scholars to know that even if they live in a housing project, they are part of a royal lineage going back to great African kings and queens. They belong to a group of individuals who invented astronomy and math, and they belong to a group of individuals who have endured so much history and still overcome. When you tell people you’re from Brownsville, their face cringes up. But there are children here that need to know that they are expected to succeed.”

After reading what Mrs Lopez said my admiration for her grew. This is the type of person that young people should have as role models. Mrs Lopez is changing a generation and giving her students a chance to succeed. She is valuing them as people and giving them the respect they need and deserve.

NY2On the page over the last two weeks more of the teachers have shared their own stories. It is clearly a difficult school to work in for many reasons but their enthusiasm, passion and love for their students was immense. This is a school community that needs to be recognised, these teachers and students need to be seen. During an interview with Mrs Lopez and the teachers they were asked how could the vision of the school be taken forward. The school said many of the students had never even left New York and the neighbourhood has the highest crime rate in New York. The school was trying to sell them a dream of growing up and being part of society and doing their part in the world but the students could not imagine this as they had never experienced the world. So Mrs Lopez said she would like to have a trip for the Grade 6 class each year to visit Harvard. It would allow them to see where they could go. To date, $1,204,537 has been donated, by people, including myself, from around the world. This has meant that the Grade 6 trip to Harvard will become a permanent feature in the Mott Hall Bridges Academy calendar. Here is the fundraising page if anyone would like to find out more – https://life.indiegogo.com/fundraisers/let-s-send-kids-to-harvard

Mrs Lopez is an inspiration to me, she made me stand back and ask how I treat my pupils. Do I show them that I respect them, value them and that I am trying to teach them to play their part in society? It is easy to get into the monotony of teaching and become stuck in the mud. Teachers must always be aiming high and realising and understand that we are teaching the next generation who will be our politicians, teachers, nurses, social workers etc. We must encourage them to work hard, be just and always aspiring to give their best.

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