March 2, 2017

By Akiya Minniefield, 8th Grade Science Teacher | STRIVE Prep – Montbello

Growing up I always wondered what it would be like to live differently, to have people in my life that believed in me and my goals. I dreamed of having people that would listen to my pain and recognize when something was wrong. Unfortunately, life was not that way for me, so I pledged early on in my life to be an avenue of hope for those working to find their own direction.

I believe that my life was an extreme challenge growing up so that I could take that pain, turn it into wisdom, and help others who may be going through the same thing. Teaching gives me the opportunity to do that. I absolutely love coming to work! Knowing that I am here to build a community and our future makes me feel blessed to be at STRIVE Prep – Montbello. My scholars respect and appreciate me because they know I appreciate and respect them, whether they’ve had a stellar day or a challenging day and regardless of their backgrounds and previous educational experiences. I care for all of them and believe in all of them because I see a piece of me in each and every one of them.

We all have a story.

I have realized in my 13 years of teaching that children reach out for help in different ways. Negative behavior is not indicative of who a child really is, which, by the way, is a curious, ever-changing, young individual looking for the best way to tap into their unique potential. I look beyond the behavior to find the true child, including what motivates them, what challenges them, and what empowers them on their own journey of self-discovery. Once a child knows that they have a teacher who genuinely cares about them not only academically, but also emotionally, more often than not, the result is a bond that can last a lifetime. Trust, me, I know from experience because I am still in contact with students I taught my first year, and although they have their own children, they are still asking me for advice! Ha!

At the end of the day, I want that possibility with all my students. That can only happen if they know they have my support now and forever.

I don’t ever want to miss an opportunity to truly know my students, beyond the grades they earn in my classroom. There’s more to who they are and every day is an opportunity to discover more about their upbringing, culture, life-circumstances, academic achievement and more. As I learned from one of my most memorable students, the depth and diversity of who our scholars are and what they’re capable of can be awe-inspiring when we get to know them.

My former student, Brittany’s came into the world when her mom had her at 16 years old. A short time later, Brittany’s mother died at the hands of Brittany’s father when Brittany was still a baby. Growing up, Brittany had many health conditions including a bad heart, which led to her receiving a pacemaker and ultimately three open heart surgeries just to extend the life of her pacemaker. But looking at her beautiful smile and seeing her in school, you would never in a million years think she was in pain almost everyday. Had I not taken the time to really get to know her, I would never have known what an amazing human being she was. She had been told she would never graduate, she was too dumb to graduate, etc. So it became my mission to help her be as successful as she could be.

Brittany graduated two years ago with A’s and B’s, and we stayed in touch. The week before my interview at STRIVE Prep she went back into the hospital for another open heart surgery. Before she went in, we talked and she told me how tired she was. I could hear it in her voice. That was the last time I ever talked to her. The day of my interview at STRIVE Prep I woke up feeling so relieved and relaxed. The interview went well and on my way out of the building I received one of the worst phone calls in my life. Brittany had passed earlier that morning. I feel that she sent me the positive, calming vibes from above that I needed that day to be successful and not a nervous wreck.

I’m grateful for the days I had to get to know all of Brittany — her history, her life circumstances, her challenges and her will to succeed. She inspires me to do the same with all of my students today.

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