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Meet Destiny: STEM Educator, Aspiring Olympian, Renaissance Woman
Destiny Woodbury (Houston ‘07) plans to accomplish enough goals in the next 18 months that would satisfy a lifetime for many.
After starring as a model teacher in a group of online engineering lessons conducted by Boeing and the Teaching Channel, she will ultimately move back to her hometown of Providence, Rhode Island, to start her own school in August 2017.
Oh, and in between, she aims to qualify for the 2016 Olympics in the 400-meter dash. The former University of Rhode Island sprinter’s personal best already falls within the time necessary to make it to the U.S. Olympic Trials—the final hurdle to Rio de Janeiro. But like any TFA alumna, she’s always pushing the bar higher.
“I’m trying to cut [my time] by two more seconds,” she says. “People always ask me how I find enough hours in the day to do all of this. I always feel like I can do more.”
We recently sat down with Destiny before International Women's Day to discuss her recent exploits and what makes this remarkable woman tick.
You just spoke at the TFA 25th Anniversary Summit. Now you’ve completed a series of video STEM lessons with Boeing and the Teaching Channel. How was the process?
Last school year, our curriculum person sent an email out to work with Boeing, and I saw this as an opportunity for my kids at KIPP in Houston. I turned in my application, sent out a résumé, and they selected me.
My students were interested in circuits, so I wanted to do something where they could apply the skills they learned in my class to get more practice. Eventually, we did 10 video lessons with our students that involved the engineering design process, where my kids had to plan, do research, make blueprints, build, work with their teammates to get feedback, and rebuild. They were invested and learned so much.
The biggest day was when the Boeing engineers actually visited our classroom, and they were so impressed with how much my students already knew. The students gained a perspective of what engineers actually do. They were really excited to pick their brains, and it inspired and motivated them to want to know more about the field.
What were some of the challenges with the project?
The engineers came into it with the mindset of what an engineer would need to know, but while they had some cool ideas, I also had to remind them that my students were 10-year-olds and needed to build that knowledge base. So it was a balance between making the lessons rigorous while still meeting my kids where they were at that young age.
It involved a lot of time, but in my mind, my kids were going to remember this project forever, and it was something that would help them remember the information in a different way.
After almost a decade in Houston, you’re moving back to your hometown of Providence to start your own school. Can you tell us more about it and what inspired you to do it?
Yes, the school will open August 2017. I’m actually moving to Brooklyn for six months while I do my residency at an Achievement First school.
This will be a new journey. I know I’m going to have rough days and happy days, but for me, I was these students. My brother, sister, and I were in their shoes years ago. My mom passed away when I was 12 years old from an overdose of cocaine. My dad has been prison all my life, even today.
But something my grandparents taught me is that when you see an opportunity, take it. So if my kids have a chance to go to a STEM camp, they’re going to go because it will open more doors for their future. It’s about giving my kids the same opportunities I had, if not more.
How would you say your TFA experience has prepared you for this moment?
This is my ninth year teaching in Houston, and if you want to be a school leader, one thing you need to have is an instructional lens, and that starts in the classroom. If I’m not able to coach and develop the teachers at my school to obtain the right outcomes for my kids, then I don’t need to be a school leader.
I think I’ve got the instructional part down, but there are certain aspects of this job I’ve never done before. I’ve never dealt with a budget before. I’ve never had to hire a whole staff before. But I feel like every experience I’ve had over the last eight years has prepared me for this moment.
That’s why I love Teach For America. I give TFA credit for everything I accomplished the past eight years. I don’t know what I’d be doing without it.
The 2016 Rio Olympics are only a few months away. Are you still planning to make Team USA?
I’m actually in my car ready to go to the gym, so that’s still in the works. I have from now until June to qualify. I’ve been in training, and I’ve been working my behind off.
The qualifying time for the 400-meter dash in the U.S. Olympic Trials is 52 seconds, and my best time is a 52. I’m trying to cut that by two more seconds, but I’m mentally ready, and that’s the hardest part.