Alumna Creating Charter School in New York

By  | 

Tameka Jackson

Outside of a career change, the Washington Semester Program helped me to come into myself. It helped fuel a passion to fight for the less fortunate, provided me with the knowledge to be a change agent, and fostered the connections and resources to do this effectively.

My last undergraduate semester in 2003, I participated in the Washington Semester Program’s Transforming Communities track which provided me with the knowledge and information to target my aspirations and prepare for future endeavors. The program helped solidify my desire to focus on education and community and instead of computer science. Through its lessons, I concluded that I was not just looking for a job, but a career where I could make a difference.

The diverse students in the Washington Semester Program challenged my thinking of how things “should” go, how things are in other parts of the country or world, and helped me develop a well-rounded view of myself in this world. The lively class discussions helped to shape my thinking about various aspects of social change. My classmates were a cohort of intelligent people who wanted to transform their communities in various ways. We all came from different institutions and backgrounds, but connected with one goal.

We were able to explore the cultural activities and civic organizations of the nation’s capital together. Washington, DC is the hub where grassroots organizations are in full swing, and where decisions are made. It is the perfect place to start a career, to start your social network and it serves as a home base for many of the fields that the Washington Semester Program offers such as justice and law, journalism, politics, and economics.

The Washington Semester Program faculty also contributed to my experience in D.C. Out of the many schools that I have attended or people that I have met, Professor Katharine Kravetz is the one consistent person I can expect an email from at any time. Whether it is to inform us of something, invite our cohort group out to eat, or to connect current students and alumni, she is always in touch. Professor Kravetz is a part of the community and has great relationships with community leaders. She helped us navigate D.C. via the program model; brought experienced speakers from the field and introduced us to community outlets. Kravetz challenged us to think outside of the box, welcomed differences, and encouraged the lone opinion. She is passionate and it is reflected in the program.

After completing my semester, I started working at the American University bookstore. I later started working at George Washington University in the computer science department, which prompted me to start my Master’s degree in Educational Technology Leadership.

Over the past ten years, I have worked at an alternative school in D.C., a special education school in Silver Spring, MD, and currently work at a transfer school in Brooklyn, NY. I am in the process of starting a charter school, called VALOUR, in East Harlem, NY, which will serve at-risk students in grades 6-12. My vision for the school includes many of the components that were introduced to me at the Washington Semester Program. My first exposure to the charter world was during my internship with the Thurgood Marshall Charter School in Southeast, D.C. It allowed me to get a thorough understanding of the inner workings of how charter schools are formed; their focus, and a personal purpose to provide an alternative solution.

VALOUR will operate very much like a community school as we have support from local colleges and universities, community organizations and medical facilities. The purpose of this is to address the issues that at-risk students face, which go beyond their academic abilities and enter into the realm of social and emotional development. We have support of social work departments, youth court systems, and local hospitals that focus on youth and adolescent health. I am looking for more support and partnerships from elected officials, the legal profession and others to further the mission for VALOUR.

Students will take computer science classes so by the time they graduate they will have the opportunity to not only receive a diploma but technical certifications that can help them along the way. There are many other aspects about VALOUR, but the focus on the community, parent engagement, and staff development is essential, because these factors combine to create an incubator for an excellent school to provide students with great results.

I aim to open VALOUR in the fall of 2015.

(edited by Nicole Howard)