It Takes a Village to Elevate a Teacher
by LaToya Fernandez, Teacher, Discovery Prep
At Rocketship, we know it takes a village to raise a child. Little did I know when I began my career at Mateo Sheedy Elementary as a crossing guard that Rocketship’s village would also elevate me.
Three years ago, I remember my mornings starting at 5:30am. I worked three jobs at the time through the YMCA’s after school program, helping with traffic before and after school and supporting teams in the learning lab and enrichment classes at Mateo Sheedy. I rushed to catch the bus to work as the sun came up, but I relished the responsibility of being the first warm, smiling face Rocketeer families saw each morning. As an added bonus, our amazing families brought me breakfast and gifts in appreciation. When Brittany Kinser, then an assistant principal, noticed my work ethic, I received a gift that changed my life: a chance to officially join Rocketship as a member of the support staff team.
The more I became immersed in Rocketship culture, the more I fell in love with the organization and the people in it. Even as I transitioned to working lunch and recess on support staff and traveled to Discovery Prep to work for their after school program, I knew I wanted to more directly impact students’ learning. I was elated when I got that chance. Faculty, families and school leaders noticed my interactions with students, and I was invited to become an Individualized Learning Specialist (ILS) in Discovery Prep’s learning lab.
As an ILS, I received endless guidance from peers, school leaders and the entire Rocketship network to help take my tutoring to the next level. I learned to integrate new strategies into to boost Rocketeers’ comprehension and phonics skills. It felt great to not only help eliminate the achievement gap, but to be trusted and supported in my work and ideas.
I wanted to connect with this organization on another level – to truly understand our mission. There are few organizations where anyone can set up a face-to-face meeting with the CEO, but I reached out and before I knew it, I was sitting at a coffee shop with Preston Smith, Rocketship’s co-founder and CEO.
“How’s your daughter doing?” he asked when we sat down.
He wanted to know what my goals were and if he could answer any questions. After hearing me out, he suggested I might be better suited for the classroom and encouraged me to pursue a teaching credential. I left inspired.
A whirlwind of personal and professional transformation followed. With a four-year-old to take care of though, investing time and money into my credential felt impossible. But with support, anything is possible. As a new teacher, I directly impacted students in ways I never could before.
With the amazing support of the Rocketship network, my Discovery Prep family and my students’ amazing families, my students grew an average 2.2 years in literacy, among the most significant gains in our network. In addition to teaching, I channeled my passion for diversity and social justice and created a girls’ empowerment group – a safe space that grew girls’ confidence in and out of the classroom.
Three years after starting as a crossing guard, I was no longer a contributor; I was eliminating the achievement gap. As I continue to pursue my credential, I am now reaffirmed that anything is possible. I am proof for my students, families and daughter that it takes a village to raise a star.
Rocketship is my village and together we are facing social issues head on, eliminating the achievement gap and pursuing excellence. We are not just another network of schools. We are a movement of change and progress for our students, for our staff and our communities.
LaToya started her career at Rocketship as a member of the support staff team. She transitioned to an enrichment coordinator then a Rocketship tutor (ILS) before becoming a fifth grade humanities teacher at Discovery Prep. LaToya graduated from Newbury College in Boston where she studied Media Writing and English.
Published on August 5, 2015