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Their Story Was My Story

Elementary school students don’t usually get excited to sit quietly through an hours-long ceremony. But on May 22nd, 2019, third graders from Rocketship Legacy Prep did just that as they watched two of their teachers graduate with Masters Degrees in Education from Johns Hopkins University. Mr. Aaron Cardwell and Ms. Kelsie McGhie brought their Rocketeers to see in action what the students work towards every day: the ability to go to and graduate from a top-tier college. “I was happy they got to witness the graduation,” Mr. Cardwell says. “It felt like it was our degree that we accomplished together because it was their assignments that helped me complete my portfolio for my degree.”

And were the kids ever excited: Watch them greet Mr. Cardwell after the ceremony!


Mr. Cardwell and Ms. McGhie let their Rocketeers see themselves in their teachers graduating, but both teachers also see themselves in their Rocketeers. Growing up in similar circumstances as their students and being the first in their family to go to college, Mr. Cardwell and Ms. McGhie know first-hand the importance of inspiring, caring teachers.


Mr. Cardwell: Their Story Was My Story


“A student on free and reduced lunch, raised in a single mother household with multiple siblings, transitioned from school-to-school, and facing mental health trauma. These are a few of the challenges that my students and I have in common while matriculating through our K-12 education. Often times I struggled to realize how hard my mom worked to raise two black boys in a society that expected us to fail. It took me becoming a teacher myself to finally realize what it truly means to be free and reduced lunch and all the struggles that often accompany that status. I now appreciate the systems put in place to make sure lunch was affordable and available to me every day while my mother was working multiple jobs to support me and my brother.


The education system my parents matriculated through did not prepare them to be college and career ready, so I had no example at home of what it meant to go to college. For most of my K-12 experience, I had no interest in attending college. That was until 10th grade when some inspiring educators changed my mindset and my entire life’s trajectory.


I hope to be that educator for my students. I hope to inspire my Rocketeers to reach for college – not in 10th grade, but to start that dream and have that drive now, in elementary school.


At Rocketship Legacy Prep, most of our students come from disadvantaged backgrounds – with one in five classified as homeless – and nearly all of our students are African American. I see myself in my students every day. Each day when I step into my classroom, I remind myself that I am not only a mirror to my students but a window of opportunity for them to change the narrative society has already written for their futures. In my opinion, this is a true replica of the saying “The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows” -Sydney J. Harris. Without these windows, our students would be left with the negative narrative society has placed on our community –  where we as African Americans are expected to struggle to succeed.


So my second/third grade instructional team and I decided that we would show our Rocketeers what it looks like to succeed in higher education and have our students attend the Johns Hopkins School of Education graduation of me and my teammate Ms. McGhie. Growing up in the Washington, DC metro area, I know that I never got to see a college graduation, let alone one at the esteemed Johns Hopkins University. There also aren’t many positive role models of African American leaders in the media succeeding through education. I am so proud that Ms. McGhie and I got to be those role models for our students, and I can’t wait to see how far they go in their own academic journey.”


Ms. McGhie: Making the Impossible Possible


“The past few years I have walked out of my comfort zone and into a world of firsts. I’m the first in my family to go to college, the first in my family to move out of the house and live alone, the first to graduate with a Masters Degree and to top it all off, a first-year teacher as a Founding third grade humanities teacher at Rocketship Legacy Prep. Born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, I am the youngest of three and the first to go to college. When I walked across that stage as a graduate of Johns Hopkins University School of Education, I walked with pride, the fifth core value of Rocketship Legacy Prep as chosen by our parents. I was proud of all of the firsts I have accomplished and the doors that I have opened for others in my family to come after me.


As an educator, I want all of my students to see themselves as college graduates. I want my students to see themselves as certified experts in whatever field they desire. One of the three questions we ask Rocketeers daily at Launch is “are you ready for college?”. Of course they all passionately scream out YES, but I was not always convinced that they know what college really means. But on May 22, 2019 at the Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore, MD, our Rocketeers got to see what a college graduation looks like. They were able to see two of their teachers as students, just like them, getting recognized for their persistence and dedication at school.


I was overwhelmed with joy to see and hear my students in the stands screaming for me as my name was called. While Dean Christopher Morphew shook my hand on stage, he whispered to me, “I’ve heard about you, you must be from Rocketship. Those are your students screaming for you – that is amazing.”


When organizing this trip, our hope was to inspire. Inspire students to see themselves as college graduates. Inspire students to work hard regardless of its difficulties. Inspire students to break boundaries and glass ceilings. And inspire students to make the impossible possible.”


Mr. Aaron Cardwell is an Assistant Principal at Rocketship Legacy Prep, where he has taught since the school opened in 2017. Ms. Kelsie McGhie is a Founding Teacher at Rocketship Legacy Prep where she teaches first and second grade Humanities.

Published on June 21, 2019