I believe I was born to be a teacher – and knew early on education was the road I would follow in life.
I've worked in education for 27 years in every capacity, starting from teacher’s assistant to high school principal.
I always felt that to be an effective principal, I had to be in the space where the children were. I spent as much time as possible in the lunch room, hallways, outside – always connecting with them. I was a principal for 13 years.
I designed Boy's Lab for boys of color on the South Side of Chicago, so they could have their values and identities affirmed in an academically rigorous environment. Our mission statement is simple: To create a space where boys are safe, joyful and engaged in learning.
We are a three-year learning cohort. We stay together through fourth, fifth and sixth grade. The idea is to bond with students, help them realize their potential and set them up for success beyond elementary school.
I’m the jack of all trades – principal, teacher, dean, professional development coordinator and mentor.
Boy's Lab is the culmination of my career. I've always been dedicated to changing the life trajectory of young men, mostly boys of color.
I think that black and brown boys, in particular, are taught school might not be the place for them, that they might not be as intelligent as their peers. At Boy’s Lab, we make sure our students understand they have the same intellect as anyone else. We just help them access that genius.
I know from research that in order to increase academic achievement for boys of color, we must change how they perceive and respond to school.
There’s really no scientific reason why boys of color struggle in school. I think it's just the environment in which they are learning. I want to give them an environment where they can grow, develop and stretch themselves.
The central innovation of Boy’s Lab is student voice. These boys have the opportunity to help to develop this program. They write me an email every night. They tell me how their day was and two things they learned.
Through those emails, I learn about them and their families. I learn what makes them sad, what makes them excited, what makes them nervous. And I'm able to develop a program that addresses their specific needs. When they have troubles in the classroom, I’m able to address that the very next morning.
The other innovation is exposure – exposing students to life outside their communities.
Many young people in Chicago don't have the opportunity to get outside the city, to go to museums or even downtown. I wanted to ensure we take our learning outside and explore.
What gets me fired up is watching young boys grow socially and academically. I've seen many of them develop a love for math even though they began with a fear, or even hatred, of math.
Micro-classrooms, or micro-schools, allow educators to remove the top layers that can hinder learning. There's no need for a huge administration to run this program. It is run at the grassroots level, by a school leader who is a 100% invested in making sure scholars have the absolute best experience possible.
The money we get per pupil is pushed down to the boys in this classroom. Many schools talk about what they can't do, especially urban schools: They don't have the money for technology, or for field studies. But they do – it’s just being spent elsewhere.
Here, we go on a field trip once a month and we travel afar once a year. When your funds go directly to your students, you can do outstanding things.
If schools are missing anything, it's this idea of servanthood. Principals are not bosses, they're servants.
If you are invested in the lives of the students you serve, they'll achieve at higher levels. Relationships are paramount.
If children don't think you believe in them, they can't receive from you. If you have no connection to your students, they can't learn from you. I don't want to be their friends, but I do want to be friendly. I want them to know that I love them.
They are loved coming in the door, and they need to know that. They need to have that connection.
I've told my scholars we're stuck with one another. I'm going to be a part of their life forever, and they'll be a part of mine.