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Courageous Leaders

We're highlighting some of the resilient and exceptional leaders within the Teach For America Detroit network. 

Teach For America Detroit 30 Days of Courageous Leaders

October 1, 2020

We know that educators regularly exceed what is required for students’ academic success and social emotional development. They go beyond the traditional role of a teacher by investing in the community, fostering strong bonds with students and families, and working with peers and colleagues to ensure all schools have equitable opportunities. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, opportunities to further relationships with students and families have expanded to setting up virtual classrooms, producing curriculum videos, delivering fresh groceries, and more. Educators are working diligently to create virtual experiences that encourage curiosity and facilitate student achievement, while also emphasizing student and family well-being. 

Since 2010, Teach For America Detroit educators have been among these courageous leaders, and we want to honor them by highlighting their leadership. In the videos below, you will hear from an array of courageous leaders, become familiar with why they do this work, and what inspires them, all while working through unprecedented challenges. 

30 Days of Courageous Leaders

We believe few things are more important than the work our educators do. If you feel inspired by our courageous leaders, we humbly ask you to invest in our program. Your contribution will bring more educators to teach our brilliant students here in Detroit and help to sustain their critical work. The leadership, innovation, and dedication of educators is essential for our students to triumph. 


Sierra Phillips

Courageous leader and Brewer Academy teacher, Sierra Phillips, shares why she became a classroom leader in Detroit. “I’ve prioritized relationship building most profoundly as a form of engagement with my students during COVID and that has informed how I treat them and see them…”

Emilio Rodriguez

Courageous leader and co-founder, Black and Brown Theatre, Emilio Rodriguez, shares how he’s helping students tap into their courage and letting their voices be heard. “... A lot of the decisions that will affect students have no students in the room.”

Jenise Williams

Courageous leader and Burns Elementary educator, Jenise Williams, talks about adjusting to expected moments during virtual learning and the importance of being an early childhood educator. “Sometimes we make the mistake as a society of feeling that high school is what really happens… As soon as a child enters a school building that’s when it matters.”

Kaia Alexander

Courageous leader and Detroit Edison Public Schools Academy educator, Kaia Alexander, speaks about her students’ passion for learning and takeaways from virtual learning. “Every single kid is passionate about learning and every single kid wants to learn and wants to have the tools and resources.”

Michael Foster

Courageous leader and Ronald Brown Academy educator, Michael Foster, shares key lessons he will take into year-two of teaching. “The students that I’m really engaging and logging on every day are the students that I have a relationship with their parents.”

Luna Terauchi

Courageous leader and Esculea Avancemos Academy educator, Luna Terauchi, shares how she kept her students connected to one another during virtual learning. “I did a letter exchange with the students. I got postcards, stamps and different things for them to be able to write to one another.”

Rebecca Vogelezang

Courageous leader and New Paradigm Loving Academy educator, Rebecca Vogelezang, shares what gets her the most fired up about being a classroom leader. “When I have students that come into my room that people have already made assumptions about… I get to prove everyone wrong.”

Akash Raje

Steven Benson

Courageous leader and Detroit Public Schools Community District teaching coach, Steven Benson, shares how his allyship shows up on behalf of students. “I’m in a place where I’m unapologetically upfront when I hear or see things that I think are rooted in bias.”

Ashley Green

Ryen Odom

Destiny Yates

Elizabeth Toye

Courageous leader and Marion Law Elementary educator, Elizabeth Toye, shares what excites her about being a teacher. “I remember teaching one of my students how to do multiplication with their hands with the nines. He was so excited because he had never learned it before.”

Melanie Wiggins

Alexandrea Somers

Evan Sawyer

Michael Chrzan

Clare McKenna

Munira Spiller

Ray Stoesser

Alexandra Hafer

Richard Griffin

Djenaba Cherif

Nick Attwater

Jasmine Brooks

Daniel Greene

Rebecca Kissel

Jerry Lawrence