As a Newark resident, what unique challenges do you feel our students face?
I believe our students face what a lot of people may consider “harsh realities.” That could look like being in a single-parent home or being the parent in the home needing to support [their family].
Unfortunately, a lot of our students are also dealing with the death of family members from gang violence. I shared with my council the other day that my 21-year-old cousin was murdered here in Newark. So that was a reality for me: for him to not even have a voice because he’s seen as a black kid that wasn’t necessarily where he was “supposed to be.”
I try to give my students the perspective that I know these things are hard. I say to students all the time, “I know it’s a success for you just to get up every single morning and come to school,” and I honor them for that.
Tell me about your own education and your path to college.
I was educated in the East Orange school district. I went to a performing arts school where I majored in vocal music, drama, and dance.
I faced challenges from 6th-8th grade. I didn’t have an IEP but I was classified as dyslexic in 8th grade. In high school then they didn’t really deal with IEPs like we do now. There wasn’t as much help or assistance. So it was a struggle going through school, but I was determined to make myself better because I had teachers who told me that I wouldn’t be anything. So I used that negativity to catapult me.
After high school, I made the decision to go to St. Peter’s University for kinesiology. Then I went to NJCU and graduated with a BA in sociology. I’m thinking about getting a master’s now.
What made you want to come to work at PPCS?
I transitioned [to PPCS] from another charter that I was in. I did some research about People’s Prep, and I loved the idea of college prep really being college prep. I’ve seen other college prep schools that don’t really prepare their students for what college is really like. We have office hours here, and I love that I’m able to relay to my council girls that that’s something they’ll really experience in college.
Also in the past, I had people that looked like me who didn’t care about kids that look like me. Our staff is so diverse and everyone cares about kids who look like me meant a lot. That’s really important to me. I feel like everyone here truly cares about our students. I see people of different cultures and backgrounds and everyone is still focused on kids. That’s what keeps me here.
You work in a student support role at PPCS. What do you find most challenging and most rewarding about the work you do with our students with disabilities?
They need my help, but they also need my push. I let them know they don’t need to stay with this IEP forever, but I do want them to always feel comfortable with asking for help. I tell them this IEP is not who they are. It’s important that we allow them to realize they can grow from this point. Even though this might be where a student is right now, the reward for me is when a student can say, “I used to have an IEP, but now I don’t.” It’s rewarding for me when I see that lightbulb moment every time we go through a lesson or pull out session and students gain more independence.
When you are not at PPCS you are actively involved in the community as a youth pastor. How does your ministry work impact the work you do with our students?
Every now and then I have to have a sit down with a student about their progress. I’m not preaching to them and quoting scripture, but I see [growth] as a 24-hour, all around, commitment. When dealing with my youth groups and teaching them principles, I’m doing the same thing. It boils down to faith. Being a youth minister and independent gospel artist, my faith is very grounding. I’m also a teacher by nature. So I don’t see these roles as being that separate. I’m not preaching to our students, but for me, I don’t see a separation in the end game.