Teach For America and Delta State University have joined forces in order to reimagine what is possible for Mississippi by cultivating next generation changemakers and social entrepreneurs. Learn more about Kandace Stevenson, a founding fellow.
March 16, 2018
I sit down at the back of Kandace Lewis Stevenson’s classroom as she dismisses her gifted class. Before each student lines up at her door, Kandace asks the group what makes their gifted class important. Hands fly into the air.
“Gifted is important because we’re in here because we have our own special talent.”
“Gifted is a place where you can learn and it will prepare you for college. So then you graduate college and you’ll have a good life.”
“Gifted is a place where you can learn new, fun things and tell people you know like family and friends, classmates and teachers about it.”
Students in Kandace’s class know just how special a gifted class is because it is the first time in nearly three years that these bright, young scholars have had the opportunity to participate in a gifted program. Kandace was instrumental in reconstituting the program at Stern Elementary, and currently leads it for the entire school.
Growing up, she never imagined that she would be teaching, let alone so close to home.
“When I was in high school, Savannah Walker [Delta '08] was my cheer coach. She was Teach For America. I loved Miss Walker, but I always told [her], ‘I can’t do what you do. I will not come back here and teach at home.’”
After graduating from Greenville-Weston High School, she attended Spellman College in Atlanta, Georgia. Her freshman roommate was interested in Teach For America, and, reluctantly, Kandace joined her for recruiting and information events. It was there that she first talked with a Teach For America recruiter who helped her see a path to joining the corps – and even returning home to Mississippi to teach.
Remembering how she balked at the idea of applying, Kandace recalls the recruiter telling her, “I know there is someone at home that you want to help out. I know there’s somebody at home who you think about when you make certain decisions – and all I could think about were my nieces who are coming up in the education system here in the Delta.”
It was then that she made her decision to return to the Mississippi Delta.
“Since I’ve been teaching, I’ve always worked with at least three of my [former] teachers,” Kandace quips. “At least three. Three at the minimum.”
Today, Kandace is leading both inside and outside of her classroom. A Fellow in Delta State University’s Social Entrepreneurship Fellowship (a partnership with Teach For America that allows alumni of the Teach For America program to pursue a master’s degree at Delta State University), her graduate project is focused on unifying support programs for students in Greenville, Mississippi.
“My project is trying to get all of the youth organizations in Greenville that are already functioning, that are already working, to work together,” Kandace explains.
Being a community leader comes naturally to Kandace who grew up in Greenville, Mississippi about thirty miles from her classroom. She credits her father with being a role model for a lot of her success.
“My dad is a community-wide coach,” she said. “He doesn’t work for a school or for the city. He just coaches on his free time . . . He makes a way. He makes it happen. And that’s what I grew up seeing. I’ve been afforded the opportunity to go further than he did. So now it’s my turn to go farther.”
To Kandace, going farther does not mean leaving your place behind. When I asked her best advice for a student she paused and smiled.
“Go. Explore. Do what you need to do to be the person that you want to become. But don’t forget where you came from,” she said. “That place may still need you.”
Kandace Stevenson is a fellow of the first Teach For America Graduate Fellows' first cohort. Delta State University recently closed applications for the Teach For America Graduate Fellows' third cohort. To learn more about the current cohorts, and how to get involved, visit their website.