CategoryInterviews

How Education is the Great Equalizer – Rochelle Brown Interview

rochelleIs education the great equalizer among races? In Rochelle Brown’s opinion, education is the key to success no matter your story. We are all given the opportunity to succeed, but it is up to us to make the decision to take it. As a self-motivated child, Rochelle’s opportunities were limitless. With determination and a supportive household, Mrs. Brown went from attending an accelerated school to becoming the Dean at The Scholars’ Academy in Queens, New York. Rochelle Brown was kind enough to share her story that we may gain insight into a woman with a bright future ahead.

  1. What type of household did you grow up in? I was raised by my mother and father with two siblings in a strict household.
  1. How did your family view education? Education was highly valued in my household. There was never an option of “IF” you were going to college it was what college and what did you want to study. My parents led by example in that they both completed Associate’s, Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees while having a family. They attended all parent teacher conferences which at one time meant going to 3 different high schools and failure was not an option.
  1. What does education mean to you? As an educator and someone who also has a Master’s Degree, something I often tell my students is that education is the way out. Education is the great equalizer meaning that it doesn’t matter what type of household you come from, if you can get a good education then you can get a good job. There is nothing else that affords people from varying backgrounds the same outcome. Of course, more affluent people are able to hire tutors when their children struggle and provide them with computers and other resources, but if someone in poverty wants it bad enough they can circumvent the circumstances that they were born in and both a person born into riches and a person born into poverty can be a CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Education is the way to unlock the door to dreams and for people to be anything they ever imagined to be.
  1. What did you want to be when you were growing up? And why? Growing up I wanted to be a pediatric oncologist. I actually wanted to get an M.D/Ph. D; so after I was done practicing medicine I would spend my days teaching college. After my aunt died from cancer when I was 15, I really wanted to study cancer and help those suffering from that terrible disease, especially children. Who knows I may even go back to medical school.
  1. Did your parents ever do anything out of the box to encourage growth? What was it? And what did you do about? My parents made sure that my sisters and I were well rounded students. We took piano lessons in addition to our formal education; went to the public library frequently; were not permitted to watch television during the school week and were restricted from watching certain shows. Additionally when my oldest sister was in elementary school, my mother found the information to have us take the test to attend a specialized middle school. If she had not done the leg work, my educational path may have been different as I was able to excel and advance at Phillipa Schulyer School for the Gifted and Talented. At the Phillipa Schulyer School, I learned to play the violin and the beginning of learning Spanish as a second language. During the summer, my father made us read books and write book reports to make sure that our minds were always actively engaged. These may seem like ordinary things, but I think it just showed a dedication to our education and not allowing our minds to always be actively engaged.
  1. Where did you go to elementary school? What kind of student were you? I went to P.S. 208, The Elsa Ebeling School. I was always very smart and studious.
  1. What was a struggle of yours in school and how did you overcome it? I do not recall struggling in school. I enjoyed school and I enjoy learning to this day. Most of the work came very easily to me. There were a few classes along the way like 7th grade math that I really had to study hard for, but overall I did not have any major struggles in school. In my junior year of college, I hit a rough patch where I was sick of being in school and just did not want to finish. I was extremely unmotivated. One thing that helped get me back on track was I used that time to volunteer with the American Red Cross and realized that in order to make a significant difference in life, I would need to finish. I also prayed a lot during that time and God was able to give me the strength to get back in the game –so to speak.
  1. Was there a teacher who inspired you? What did he/she do to inspire you? One teacher that really inspired me was my 7th and 8th grade Language Arts teacher Ms. Keane. Ms. Keane was an inspiration, because she really seemed to love her job. She exposed me to poetry and made it fun which I had never thought about before. She was also very caring and compassionate and just an all-around great teacher.
  1. Who was your support system? My parents were supportive. Nevertheless, I was motivated and wanted to be successful, therefore I was able to do it on my own.
  1. What is your greatest achievement/accomplishment? I would say achieving my Master’s Degree has been a great accomplishment. In a world where many people do not finish their education I am grateful that I was able to. When I was in college, I also did a study abroad program in Puerto Rico. Studying abroad was a huge achievement for me, because I was able to live completely away from my family and everything that I knew for a certain amount of time and still be successful.
  1. What did you have to learn or experience to get to where you are today? I had to learn to be self-sufficient and realized that whatever I want in life I have to go after. It’s good for parents to lay the ground work, but as people get older they have to tread the waters of life for themselves and learn to navigate various things. I attended City College and there were a lot of things about the college system that I had to learn, but realizing very quickly to get things done you have to learn and be persistent. I recently received Teacher Loan Forgiveness and that was because I was persistent in going after what I wanted. I also recently completed the course work to become a Principal and I know that when I decide that was the direction I wanted to go in is the direction I knew it would require a lot of hard work and dedication which I could only do for myself.
  1. Is there a saying/quote or something that someone said that inspires you? A quote I like very much is from Nelson Mandela that says: “Education is the most powerful weapon that you can use to change the world.” I think it’s pretty self-explanatory.
  1. What factors lead you to becoming an educator? I always wanted to teach, I just did not anticipate it being the middle or high school level and at this stage in my life. However, after getting married and having my first daughter I applied for a program called the New York City Teaching Fellows. I felt that if it was God’s plan for me I would be accepted and then determine my path from there. I got accepted into the program and became a middle school science teacher. After I got accepted, I realized that each year I would have hundreds of students in front of me whose lives I could make a difference in, which continued to spark my excitement. A few years into teaching, I realized that I liked working with students but not as much in the classroom setting. I enjoy speaking to them about life and making wise decisions and being different than what society expects them to be. I thought about going back to school to become a Guidance Counselor, but at the time there was a hiring freeze and I did not want to go to school and not find a job. I was granted the Dean’s position and realized that I had found my niche and something that I really enjoyed — dealing with the students that many teachers write off quickly and getting to speak to them about life and the consequences of making poor decisions.
  1. Do you feel that there is disconnect between administration and parents in schools today? How would you like it to change? If there is communication, how do you communicate with parents? I feel that the disconnect comes when administrators forget what it’s like to be in the classroom. I actually feel there is more a disconnect between administrators and the actual student body than with the parents at times, which can create tension. As I continue on my education journey and as a parent I always have to remain mindful of what it was like to be in the classroom both as a student and as a teacher. This helps to keep me grounded and to focus my energy in the right places. Currently, I am in a school that communicates using technology as a resource in terms of emailing messages. I find this method to be highly effective, because it makes both parents and staff easily accessible and since 90% of people have a smart phone, it is highly likely that the message will be received. Telephone calls are also another tool that I use to communicate, because sometimes parents have questions that are easier to address over the phone.
  1. What do you desire to see changed or improved upon in the education world? The single thing that I would like to see improved in education is equality. Education is free to everyone, but there is a huge disparity between the resources a school like Stuyvesant High School receives versus an inner city school in South Jamaica Queens. I would like the playing field to be even and everyone be granted the opportunity to have a fair education by dedicated teachers. Some people rely heavily on testing, but how can you make a test that’s standardized when education is far from standardized? And it starts from Pre-K. We cannot control the outside situations that our students come from, but we should be able to more authentically provide them with an education that will set them on the road to success.I would also like standardized tests not to be the measure of success, but progress. For example, if a student starts the year unable to read but by the end of the school year they are able to read short stories, then I believe that the teacher has been successful in meeting the needs of the student. In Finland, students have the option of either choosing an academic route or a vocational route. I also believe this is something that is needed in the American education system. Not every student desires to go to college or is capable of doing well; but because that is not an outlet that’s stressed these students end up becoming frustrated and dropping out of school where there are other viable options.

Connect with  Rochelle Brown on Linkedin or find out more about The Scholars’ Academy.

Why Parents and Schools are Vital to a Child’s Growth

viewImageDo you honestly believe that parents make a difference in their child’s education?  Dr. Travis J. Bristol seems to think so. From the heights of New York City to a Research and Policy Fellow at Stanford University, Travis has seen it all. I asked Travis to share some insight into his personal experience of being raised in a single parent household and the benefits of a support team in school.

  1. Did your parents have an impact on your education? How?

I grew up in a single mother household. As a child, I remember my mother reading to me and coming to teacher/parent conferences. She was also very active in helping me with my homework, especially in my elementary years.

  1. Do you wish your parents were less or more involved in your education?

I think my mom was as involved as I allowed her to be. I believe the school could have been more creative in involving her, but I feel my mother did the best she could given the circumstances she was dealing with.

  1. Did you have a favorite teacher? Why?

One of my favorite teachers is Ms. Shapiro, she was my 11th grade teacher at Washington Irving High School. She was my favorite teacher, because she made learning come alive. Ms. Shapiro not only gave us challenging text to read, but she made us act them out. For example, when we were reading the Scarlet Letter, she had students walk around with the letter “A” across their neck so they could get a sense of what the character was feeling.

  1. Who helped you succeed the most in school?

I had a small group of teachers that held me to high expectations and a guidance counselor who told me I had the potential to apply to more challenging schools.

  1. Why did they push you?

They probably pushed me, because they saw something in me.

  1. What influenced you to pick your career?

I had the misfortune and fortune of going to a really challenging school, Washington Irving Heights School. In 2004, it was rated on the top twelve most dangerous schools in New York City. Nevertheless, I had the fortune of going to one of the best colleges in the country, a small little art college in Massachusetts, because of my high school. In recognizing the opportunity, I wanted to use what was given to me to help others. I thought teaching and education might be the ideal profession.

  1. What advice would you give to kids that are in school or about to enter school?

Read every day, don’t accept everything that people say, be critical of what teachers tell you, and what the media tells you about yourself and about people who look like you. In addition, read what intelligent people are writing and imitate their writing to help improve your own skills. As long as you can read or write, people will respect you.

  1. As a parent now and being successful, what do you take from what your mother did to your kids now?

Something my mother did was read to her kids. Due to my mother’s concern about my education, I have incorporated her passion into my own children’s schooling. I am very fortunate to have a very flexible job so I can work from home at times. Therefore, I can go and read in my kids’ classes. So many parents today don’t have that kind of flexibility and so the T.V. becomes their babysitter. Nevertheless, children need to read more and if possible, turn off the T.V.

 

More about Dr. Travis J. Bristol  here

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