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Dedicated Florida Teachers Work Together to Enhance Student Opportunities

Second-year corps members launch new professional development that merges the strengths of teachers and their communities

October 31, 2023

In spring 2023, second-year corps members across Teach For America's Florida regions unveiled their remarkable Strengthening Schools Pathway Projects (SSP) during an inspiring virtual presentation to the greater community. Through SSP, these dedicated educators are on a mission to design and implement action-based research initiatives that contribute to greater equity at the classroom, school, or district level.

The heart of SSP is to empower educators to fortify their schools in ways that open doors to equitable education opportunities for every student, setting them on a path to a future of their choosing. At the culmination of each year-long endeavor, the SSP educators present their findings to the broader Florida community, shedding light on the complexities of the issues their communities face and highlighting the opportunities for innovation and change.

Throughout the SSP journey, the teacher participants dive deep into systems leadership practices through quarterly learning cycles. These cycles encompass a series of learning experiences where teachers explore the realms of empathy, definition, ideation, prototyping, testing, implementation, and adjustment, all aimed at enhancing the impact of their initiatives.

As they journey through these cycles, they gather, curate, and leverage knowledge, skills, and mindsets, all geared toward reshaping policies and practices that amplify student access to an equitable education. Furthermore, teachers ensure their projects remain grounded in the voices of those most affected by them, regularly surveying and seeking input to refine their approach.

To enhance their capacity for meaningful change, teachers engage in personalized coaching, participate in small group collaboratives, and attend workshops that focus on anti-oppression work. The goal is to ensure that all students are equipped with the necessary resources, support systems, and academic preparation required to wield full agency in their lives.

Coaching a corps member

Projects that Illuminate Possibilities

These exceptional projects are the embodiment of the SSP's dedication to innovation and positive change. Here are a few examples of the transformative initiatives corps member teachers have undertaken:

1. Math - The Universal Language by Aimee Knaus

Focusing on the 30% ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) students at her school, Knaus is addressing the need for an ESOL program. She seeks to create a comprehensive guide for ESOL strategies in an elementary math classroom while collaborating with fellow teachers on implementing these strategies. Her focus group, comprised of her students from this and the previous year, provides crucial feedback on the most effective approaches.

2. Student Peer Counseling by Maria Lewis

Recognizing the need for healthier outlets for emotional expression among students, Lewis' project introduces student peer counseling. Younger students partner with older peers for 15-minute sessions twice a week, providing a space for open discussions, art therapy, or meditation. This initiative teaches positive ways to cope with emotions, ultimately fostering a more emotionally resilient and well-balanced student community.

3. Homestead Middle Needs Morale! by Orlando Ramirez

At Homestead Middle School, teachers have been grappling with declining morale, increased anxiety, and interpersonal challenges. Ramirez's project aims to boost teacher morale and promote retention by reviving the "Super Hero Squad" and garnering greater teacher engagement. Monthly gatherings and a committee for planning and discussion are central to this initiative, with the ultimate goal of enhancing the school's overall climate.

4. Student Wellness Initiative by Toni Correa

Recognizing the importance of trauma-informed education, Correa's project takes a holistic approach to address mental health. In a fast-paced learning environment, students spend hours with little opportunity to pause and destress. To counteract this, Toni offers students a space for meditation, journaling, gardening, and mindfulness practice. In an age where depression and anxiety are on the rise, particularly among young girls, this initiative serves as a vital brain break and a device-free means of decompression.

The Strengthening Schools Pathway Projects exemplify the commitment of Teach For America’s Florida regions to fostering a culture of equity, innovation, and positive transformation in education. Through these initiatives, our dedicated second-year corps member teachers are not only creating a better learning experience for their students but also shedding light on the path to a brighter, more equitable future while sharpening their own leadership capabilities.

The impact of these projects resonates far beyond the classroom, offering lessons, insights, and inspiration for our broader community. As we celebrate the work of these extraordinary educators, we recognize that our mission remains a dynamic and ongoing journey towards a more equitable education system and a brighter future for all students.

Check out the 2023 Projects here: