TFA Alum Tracey Naylor Tymczyszyn is Serving Students Who Remind Her of Her Younger Self
June 7, 2023
Growing up in the rural Florida panhandle, Tracey Naylor Tymczyszyn never envisioned herself entering the education field.
Motivated by a life-changing experience in a program called Global Youth Village, to which she received a full scholarship while in high school, Tracey intended to go to college and eventually work in global finance or international development.
But during her time studying international economic policy at American University in Washington, D.C, a professor who mentored her convinced Tracey that if she became an educator, she could give back to students who, like her, needed opportunities to gain exposure to broader perspectives and to succeed academically.
As a result, upon graduation from college,Tracey served as a Teach for America corps member in Phoenix from 2006 to 2008. Today, she serves as principal of Hazelwood Elementary School in the Renton School District. And, just as her mentor suggested, Tracey has found a deep vocation in serving students who remind her of her younger self.
“...sometimes it's one opportunity that changes the course of how a child sees themselves in the world.”
That advice from her college mentor, Tracey said, “changed my life. And that has been a core piece of what drives me as a school leader. What makes our school unique is that if there's an opportunity, we find a way to bring it to the school for our scholars here. Because you never know, sometimes it's one opportunity that changes the course of how a child sees themselves in the world.”
That’s exactly what happened to Tracey when she attended Global Youth Village in North Carolina. The program brings together youth from across the world for a summer camp-like experience.
“That was pivotal, and really changed my life. There were very few other Americans; it was mostly students from all over the world.,” Tracey said. “That was the first time that I'd ever met anyone who spoke another language.”
She also met an American University professor there, and that’s what made her decide to attend college there, and to focus on international relations.
“You see the trend.That is how education works,” she said. “That's why it is so powerful as an opportunity.”
How has Tracey’s youthful experience translated to her work as an educator?
After her TFA service, Tracey taught at schools in New Orleans, and as an administrator in schools in Brooklyn and Washington D.C., before moving to Washington, her husband’s home state.
Once in Washington, Tracey met Dr. Tammy Campbell, who at the time was Renton’s assistant superintendent of learning and teaching. “I heard about her through someone at Teach For America, who had mentioned that she was really excited about instructional leadership and helping principals see their roles as supporting learning in the classroom in a very direct way.”
As a principal in Renton, Tracey is focused on building teacher content knowledge – “paying attention to those best practices that can create the widest pool of success for our learners.” She mentioned phonics instruction and structured literacy training as one key area, and creating professional learning communities to support teachers in their ongoing development.
While building student academic skills, Tracey also focuses on exposing them to real-life experiences, so important to her when she was growing up. She cited as one example a fifth-grade mock trial unit, where students decide what crime to charge a fictional character with, then prepare prosecution and defense strategies.
“We bring in defense attorneys and prosecuting attorneys, we bring in the judges from Renton, and then at the culmination of the project, the scholars go to the Municipal Court in downtown Renton and judges preside over the mock trial.”
“If we can begin to expand and reimagine what it means to learn, it will help us think more broadly about how to continue to create schools that facilitate the growth of our learners in powerful ways that will mobilize their future, mobilize them to be excited about who they are and what they can offer to the world.”
Not only do such experiences build academic engagement and a broader perspective, they promote social-emotional health, Tracey said. Learning how to face stressful situations, performance anxiety, and adversity builds resilience, she said.
“This type of learning is so inextricably connected to the social-emotional piece, they cannot be separated,” she said.
Just as Tracey’s horizons expanded thanks to Global Youth Village, so she wants her students to gain a broader perspective through their experiences at Hazelwood.
“If we can begin to expand and reimagine what it means to learn, it will help us think more broadly about how to continue to create schools that facilitate the growth of our learners in powerful ways that will mobilize their future, mobilize them to be excited about who they are and what they can offer to the world,” Tracey said.