17 Oct New School of Thought: Creating an Nurturing Environment Where Everyone Can Flourish
When I opened Mott Hall Bridges Academy, I was on a personal mission to create a school that would offer a safe and nurturing learning environment. Growing up in Brooklyn, New York in the early 1980’s, I lived in a violent community that was dealing with the infestation of gangs, crack abuse, and the struggles of the AIDS epidemic. For many of us the safest place was inside our local schools with adults who taught us despite the daunting task of getting my peers and I to focus on school work, though we worried about what awaited for us in our neighborhood. Whether it was the activities that teachers planned, the mental health that social workers offered, or just a loving place that allowed hours of escape, every school I attended provided all that I needed to that allowed me to flourish into the person I have become.
Now that I am a principal, I realize that not only do I have responsibility to offer an equally nurturing space for both teachers and scholars. Many of the activities and initiatives that we offer at our school have come from suggestions and request made by the stakeholders in our school building because for me it was important that our space is reflective of the voices within our community. Gender specific programs such as She is Me and I MATTER offers our scholars mentoring and a platform to discuss issues impacting our scholars and the society we live in. Our partnership with Liberty Programs, offers at risk academic and emotion support by way of tutoring and counseling sessions. But we also offer a number of clubs that includes sports, special interest groups, and community service for our scholars to have choice in activities that are of interest to them. We have also incorporated the use of the art therapy to offer a creative outlet for our entire school community. Lunch sessions have been hosted for staff and scholars, as well as Saturday sessions for our families to participate.
In recognizing the demands that educators face with standardized testing, planning, grading, and trying to balance their owns lives, it is evident that the work to teach children who have tremendous emotional and academic needs can be overwhelming. This is why I have created the TEAM MHBA culture that speaks to all of my staff member working together to collaborate in their work to minimize the isolation and moments of frustration that often arises. Within each teacher’s schedule is embedded a minimum of three periods of TEAM work to collaborate as a grade level, department level, and school-wide team to improve the delivery of instruction, alignment of curriculum, the identification of at risk-scholars, and to develop plans of action with targeted support for the staff and scholars. Additionally, for the past six years, I have allocated funding for teachers to receive social-emotional support from an organization called “Restoring Community Excellence” that offers strategies to create balance and management of work-life issues. This has been a tremendous asset in building our school culture because investing in the emotional well-being of my staff empowers them to be at their very best for our children.
It is my firm belief that in education we are in service of others, therefore it must be a reflection of their wants and needs. By always being active and present in my school community, I am able to create a space that offers a happy , healthy, and productive environment.