Chastity Berrios Hernández strives every day to make her bilingual classroom peaceful and welcoming for her students, many of whom come from single-parent, low-income households. She also promotes social and emotional learning while teaching the three R’s to her students who face personal and academic challenges.
We honored Ms. Berrios as an Alma Exley Scholar in 2017 when she was a student at Fairfield University. Since then, she has been teaching in bilingual, Spanish/English classrooms at Clinton Avenue School in New Haven.
Wish List on Amazon
Looking ahead to the new school year, she has established a wish list on Amazon to collect books and materials to help create a positive learning environment in her fourth-grade classroom. Click here to view the wish list.
“These books and materials will have a direct impact on my students in meaningful ways,” she said. “They will help to make the classroom feel welcoming–like a second home to them.
These resources are intended to help the students with social and emotional learning. Click here to read an article about social and emotional learning.
Life-Long Coping Skills
The materials are intended to help students to develop life-long coping skills and learn how to resolve conflict peacefully. They also will help them to overcome the barriers they face in learning a second language. Some of the items are for small-group instruction for both English and Spanish.
“The books listed are to add to our growing bilingual library,” Ms. Berrios said. “I am creating a book corner, a calming corner to enhance those times when we all need a small break.
“My practice in the classroom is always to get the students engaged in a hands-on manner. They are starting to see where they could be change-makers in all aspects of their lives. This past school year we talked a lot about the environment, animals, and the economy using the program called Panorama. This encouraged the students to start an initiative to pick up all the trash around the school twice a week.
“I often talk to my students about my personal life story and how I decided to become a teacher,” Ms. Berrios said. “I had only one teacher of color in my public-school career. She made such a difference in my life, and that’s when I realized that students need a teacher like me.
“I’m sending heartfelt thanks to all who consider getting involved to make a difference for our students,” she said. “No amount is too small, and all will be appreciated.”
Hearty congratulations to Vernon-James Riley and Justis López. These Alma Exley Scholars have been admitted into the Doctor of Education Leadership program at Harvard University.
We honored Mr. Riley in 2008 when he was an undergraduate at Yale. Mr. López was our honoree in 2015, when he was a student in the five-year Bachelor’s/Master’s Program at the University of Connecticut.
“I am extremely excited to pursue this long-time goal of mine,” Mr. Riley told me. “As a system-level leader in education, I commit to grounding myself in my values, honoring the uniqueness of each school community’s needs and its leader’s vision, and leveraging system-wide the tried-and-true principles of data-informed instruction, all in service of student wellness and achievement.
“I believe that the Ed.L.D. program of study will further develop my values, knowledge, and skills, empowering me to effectively lead and transform for the large-scale impact I know is possible.”
Born and raised in Harlem, New York City, Mr. Riley resides in the Washington, D.C., area where he serves as the Vice Provost of National School Leader Programs at the Relay Graduate School of Education. Previously, he served as Principal at North Star Academy Charter School in Newark, New Jersey, a National Blue Ribbon School and part of the Uncommon Schools network.
He received a B.A. in American Studies from Yale University, an M.A. in Curriculum and Instruction from the College of Education at Michigan State University, an Ed.M. in Organizational Leadership from Teachers College, Columbia University, and an Ed.M. from Relay Graduate School of Education.
Creating Radical Spaces of Joy
“I cried when I got the acceptance call from our professor,” Mr. López said. “It still feels like a dream or movie. I am incredibly excited to join this community.
“My goal in this program is to create radical spaces of joy, love, healing, peace, and possibility for people to reach the best version of themselves so that they may flourish and thrive, especially for the communities that the Alma Exley scholarship program supports.”
Justis López (also known as DJ Faro) is the founder and chief enthusiasm officer (CEO) of Just Experience LLC, a startup company that strives to educate, entertain, and empower communities across the world. As a community organizer, he focuses on ways to create spaces of radical joy, justice, healing through Hip-Hop and the arts.
He is pursuing his second master’s degree, in education entrepreneurship, at the University of Pennsylvania, where he is focusing on creating Joy Labs with Project Happyvism.
Previously, he served as the Director of Alumni Affairs at the Council for Opportunity in Education in Washington D.C., assisting with fostering community for the national TRIO programs for low-income and first-generation college students. He began his career as a social studies teacher at his alma mater, Manchester High School in Connecticut and has taught high school and middle school in the Bronx, N.Y.
The program is a cohort-based, three-year, fully funded program, which includes the opportunity to take classes across Harvard’s graduate schools in the second year,” Mr. López said. “In the third year, I will participate in a residency with an education organization aligned to my goals.”
According to Harvard, the doctoral program is designed to produce transformative leaders in preK–12 education. Students in the multidisciplinary program take courses in the Harvard Graduate School of Education, the Harvard Business School, and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
What an exceptional opportunity for these young men to receive a well-rounded education giving them deep insights into the worlds of education, business, and government. I’m sure they will emerge from this experience ready to assume even greater responsibilities and have an even bigger impact at the local, state, or national level.
Harvard says that graduates of its education leadership program have become superintendents of schools, chief academic officers, and presidents of foundations and other nonprofit organizations. Graduates also have gone on to become state education commissioners or policy advisors to senior government officials as well as social entrepreneurs and innovators.
This is such an exciting opportunity for Messrs. Riley and López. They already have had a significant impact in the field of education, and I expect them to reach even greater heights in their remarkable careers in the future.
William T. Saunders II’s life was transformed at an early age by a teacher who introduced him to the arts, specifically dance.
“I met Earl Mosley when I was in the seventh grade through his independent dance program,” he says. “He was the first Black male teacher I had. He encouraged me to follow whatever dream I had, even if it wasn’t in the performing arts. He taught me that the discipline I learned in dance class would serve me in any career.”
Mr. Saunders, who grew up in Waterbury, has been selected as the Alma Exley Scholar for 2021. He is pursuing his master’s degree in a two-year program at Relay Graduate School of Education.
A Life-Changing Challenge
“I auditioned for the dance program in seventh grade because a friend told me I was too fat,” Mr. Saunders recalls. “She told me, ‘No one wants to see your big belly jiggling on stage.’ I still laugh about it until this day. That was the best challenge I ever got. It changed my life.”
Earl Mosley’s Diversity of Dance was a perfect fit for the young William Saunders. The program provided an environment where students from diverse ethnic, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds were encouraged to achieve excellence.
Positive Influence of a Black Male Teacher
“Mr. Mosley, my first Black male teacher, helped me come to terms with who I wanted to be,” Mr. Saunders says. “He welcomed me into a non-competitive environment. He helped me to connect with my own art and individuality in a place where I felt safe to learn and grow.
“I soon knew I wanted to be an educator. I knew I wanted to help young Black students appreciate and love every part of themselves. I wanted to be someone’s Mr. Mosley.”
After the initial summer program ended, Mr. Mosley founded an annual summer dance program, Earl Mosley’s Institute of the Arts, hosted at the Marvelwood School in Kent, Conn. “I worked with Mr. Mosley from the seventh grade through high school, college, and into my mid-twenties. These were some of the best times in my life,” Mr. Saunders says.
“I talk about Mr. Mosley being the teacher who inspired me the most because he embraced having an education. He didn’t just focus on the dance. He would always push his students to be well versed in everything. He valued conversation, order, and balance. He wanted his students to have the ability to hold their own in any situation. Additionally, he never stifled my voice. He taught me the importance of speaking up and having an opinion.”
Encouraged by his dance teacher, Mr. Saunders attended the University of the Arts in Philadelphia to pursue his interest in ballet. After earning his BFA, he performed with small dance companies in Philadelphia and New York City.
Beginning as a Paraprofessional
He returned to the classroom when Achievement First Hartford High School recruited him as a paraprofessional. When a teacher left mid-year, he was promoted to lead teacher and passed the Praxis examination which is necessary for certification.
Mr. Saunders’s great-grandmother, Rilla Moore, raised him and his two sisters in Waterbury. “She never went past fourth grade, but she instilled in us the importance of education,” he says. “She made us sit down at the kitchen table and do our homework as soon as we got home from school. And we all had to individually read three chapters of the Bible out-loud every day to work on our reading skills.”
Their great-grandmother’s emphasis on education took hold. Mr. Saunders’ sister Darry is a science teacher at Keynor Tech in Waterbury. His sister Erica is a math education major at Central Connecticut State University.
A Vital Lesson From a Student
Mr. Saunders describes his introduction to teaching this way:
“When I first started teaching, I was scared. The first couple of weeks were rough. My classes were filled with disruptions, a nervous Mr. Saunders, and kids who wanted to learn but enjoyed a little fun time.”
“One day a student asked me why I wanted to teach. I gave the typical answer, ‘I love education.’ She then told me, ‘That’s why no one is listening to you.’ She explained that students don’t want someone who loves education. They want someone who is interested in them and loves to be with them.
“From that moment, I started to approach teaching from the perspective of caring for the whole person,” he says. “It wasn’t enough to just care about teaching.
“I noticed that my class culture started to shift. I noticed that the students started to enjoy being in the room with me. Scholars started coming to office hours. Interruption stopped. The room was filled with so much joy.
“This experience has helped me understand that all children need a whole person to show up, not someone that can recall facts. Scholars were able to meet the real Mr. Saunders. This not only helped them grow academically, but it also helped them learn how to navigate relationships with adults.”
Coaching Competitive Cheerleading
Since he was a cheerleader at Crosby High School, he welcomed the opportunity to coach the cheerleading squad at Achievement First. He is proud of building an inclusive team that has entered competitions with other schools. The team got a confidence boost when they placed third in their first competition. And they won the Spirit Award in their second meet.
Mr. Saunders is dedicated to encouraging all of his students to develop their potential to the fullest. “I try to show students that you can be whatever you want to be,” he says. “Embrace what makes you different. Your voice matters. Learn to find your voice.”