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When Will McClain transitioned into a new role as assistant principal at Petersburg High School in the 2016-2017 school year, Sha-Lah Solomon wasted no time in introducing himself and making sure he felt welcome. As the senior class vice president and a leader on the varsity football team, Sha-Lah has already impacted many people through his instincts for building connections. As someone who knows this first-hand, Dr. McClain is grateful to have met this student who has “leadership in his blood."

Angel Rather never had Christian Miller as a teacher, but that did not matter. Their mutual passion for diversity and social justice brought them together to help form the Diverse Hands at Work Club at Powhatan High School. In their first year of work together, they helped grow the club to over 25 members while promoting inclusiveness at their school. As the president of the club, Angel attributes much of its success to Mr. Miller, who she describes as “really really dope."

Emily Hunneycutt was one of only a few racial minority students in Cindy Sinanian’s 6th grade class at Chickahominy Middle School. Ms. Sinanian believed it was important to talk about issues related to race and culture with her students, and in doing so she helped Emily feel like she belonged. Emily also began to see her own potential for advocacy work, and attributes this to Ms. Sinanian for providing the space for her to learn and grow in unanticipated ways.

On the day that she was supposed to graduate from Goochland High School in 2017, Samantha Martin texted her alternative education teacher Elizabeth Kuhns with a simple but urgent question, "Can I come back?" Now a proud member of the class of 2018, Sam is the only student in Ms. Kuhns' 28 year career who dropped out of high school and returned. Click below to listen to their story. 

Kamryn Smith met her assistant principal Queen Bailey in her freshman year at Douglas Freeman High School. Now a junior, she believes she can go to Ms. Bailey for anything because she knows that she respects her and will always be ready to listen. Their story shows the kind of impact an administrator can make on a student's life, and how strong relationships begin with trust. 

Denay Haist, a teacher at Beulah Elementary School, taught Paola Henriquez when she was in the fifth grade. Paola is now a senior at L.C. Bird High School, and she attributes much of her success today to Ms. Haist, who advocated for her admission to a middle school honors program years ago. Their story captures the long lasting impact of high expectations in public education, and how some teachers just stick with you. 

Gregory McCallum has been an educator for close to three decades. When he met Tykeria (TK) Johnson in her 8th grade year, he quickly recognized her musical talent and worked with her for the next four years as her band director at Community High School. Now a recent graduate, TK is on her way to the Berklee College of Music in Boston as a percussionist. She credits this huge accomplishment to Mr. McCallum, her “father in music."

Brian Condit (RPS), David Naff (MERC), and Brionna Nomi (VCU) introduce the Connections Across Education series from Abstract, featuring stories about the importance of relationships in public education from each of our MERC school divisions. Stay tuned throughout the summer and fall of 2018 for good news about students and educators in metropolitan Richmond.  

We spoke with students and faculty at CodeRVA Regional High School, an innovative new school in Richmond, Virginia serving students from 13 school divisions across the Commonwealth. Listen and learn more about their experiences in the first year and their plans for the future of the school.  

As a part of the Professional Development for Success in Culturally Diverse Schools MERC study, we spoke with teachers engaged in action research projects in their classrooms focused on culturally responsive practices: Solitia Wilson and Cindy Sinanian from Hanover County Public Schools. Check out our conversation about the challenges and opportunities of our diversifying schools and the importance of thoughtfully-designed professional development opportunities for teachers. 

Ram Bhagat is the President of the Conciliation Project and a former public educator of over 30 years. Dr. Bhagat works to promote peace and mindfulness through drumming with students in east Richmond. We talked with him about social/emotional learning and his mission of building "massive resilience" in students.


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