Co-founder and Executive Director, Technology Access Foundation
How did your interest in education begin?
I became interested in informal education back in the late 1990s and in 1996 I started the Technology Access Foundation (TAF) to teach students of color how to be inventors and creators of technology. I became very interested in the nuts and bolts of formal K-12 education when I had my own children. This really made me reflect on my own K-12 education. Granted, it was decades ago, but there are still similarities when it comes to racism, sexism and the 'sit and get' format. I began to read more education reform literature—which had its own issues around racism—to help inform the direction we wanted TAF to go and what I should be expecting for my own children.
How have you been involved in education, professionally or as an advocate, over the years?
My informal education involvement happened in my college years where I tutored in math, coached girls' basketball, taught programming to underserved students, and I taught all the classes the first two years of TAF. In the early years of TAF, I would consider myself more of an advocate because I could see our students doing this amazing technical work in their summer internships, but not being pushed in their high schools.
When TAF began planning for TAF Academy (our public school we operate in partnership with Federal Way Public Schools) in 2006, I had to do a deep dive into formal education to ensure we designed a model that would give our students an opportunity to the world they envision—personally, communally, nationally and globally.
My education advocacy has certainly stepped up over the last 15 years! I've served on state committees and commissions, and traveled the country on behalf of black and brown education leaders running charter schools. Most of my advocacy is around the importance of creating academic environments that eliminate race-based disparity in academic achievement, and promote the highest level of student learning and teacher development. Our schools today are just buildings students and staff go to each day without passion for teaching and learning. We need to change that if we don't want to continue wasting our students' potential to develop into their best selves.
What one or two education issues are you most passionate about (and why)?
1) Recruiting and retaining teachers of color in our public school classrooms. Our population is changing and right now 90 percent of public school teachers are white, while over 50 percent of public school students are of color. There is an abundance of research pointing to the fact that students of color do much better in school when they have teachers of color they can connect to. And teachers of color need colleagues who can culturally relate to them and share some of the burden of being the 'go to' adults for students of color and advocating for what's right in terms of content delivery and student support.
2) Creating student-centered academic environments. Most of what students in our traditional public schools 'learn' is fed to them and generally has no connection to their day-to-day lives. Most teachers believe they must be the purveyor of all information and students don't know much. We need to stop muting the voices of students and give them an environment where they are free to share ideas and learnings, and have choices in how they learn.
Tell us about an educator who made a particularly large impact on your life.
I was fortunate to have what I would consider a very good, high quality high school education. That was in the 1970s when teachers (particularly humanities) had more freedom of content and curriculum—basically before we started testing kids to death and taking the joy out of teaching and learning. I would say Ms. Bellos was the most radical. She exposed us to activism, Watergate, our Miranda rights and had us read books ranging from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's "Gulag Archipelago," "The Electric Cool Aid Acid Test," "Soul on Ice," [Dick Gregory's autobiography] "Nigger," "Manchild in the Promised Land," "Up Against the Law," etc.
Mr. Johnstone loved acting out parts in Dante's Inferno and King Lear, and he turned us on the Herman Hesse. Mr. Gus spent an entire freshman year semester teaching us how to diagram sentences, which I totally appreciate now. Mr. Merli introduced us to everything Hemmingway and how to interpret the classics. The two teachers who changed the trajectory of my life were Mr. Moyer and Mrs. Vesey. In my freshman year, Mr. Moyer recognized I was tracked into a lower math class when I should have been in the honors track. He connected with Mrs. Vesey and they crafted a way for me to graduate with calculus under my belt. That required me to attend summer school every single year of high school, but it was worth it. I would not have been able to major in computer science without it.
Share an unusual/fun fact about yourself.
I played rugby for eight years, then became a coach for five years. I played second row, number eight, and fly-half positions.