You see, Vidal attends Mott Hall Bridges Academy in Brownsville, Brooklyn.
Brownsville was referred to as “the deadliest place in the city” by NYMag back in 2008. It is a community where 11 shootings occurred within 15 days in 2010. In May 2014 more people had been shot in Brownsville than in all of Manhattan. It is one of New York City’s poorest areas with nearly 40 percent of people living below the poverty line.
This is the everyday reality of Vidal, his peers, his family, and his school community. They live in the midst of stressors and trauma. Most of them have probably experienced at least one Adverse Childhood Experience. Statistics tell us kids living in poverty have a higher number of absences and that 16 to 24 year olds are seven times more likely to drop out of school.
Why would a child, randomly chosen in this area, inform a stranger that he is most influenced by his principal?
Because his principal, Nadia Lopez, is doing something right that many professionals in the education system miss. She understands the “it factor.”
We don’t call the children ‘students,’ we call them ‘scholars.’ Our color is purple. Our scholars wear purple and so do our staff. Because purple is the color of royalty. I want my scholars to know that even if they live in a housing project, they are part of a royal lineage going back to great African kings and queens. They belong to a group of individuals who invented astronomy and math. And they belong to a group of individuals who have endured so much history and still overcome. When you tell people you’re from Brownsville, their face cringes up. But there are children here that need to know that they are expected to succeed. – Nadia Lopez via Humans of New York
Lopez mentioned that she was afraid her scholars didn’t think they were good enough. She has recognized that the kids walking through her doors have a lot more on their shoulders than just the weight of their backpacks. They are sitting in classrooms with anxiety, generational poverty, broken homes, hunger, fear, stress, a lack of healthy role models, and perhaps abuse or neglect – to name a few. And with all of this weight they are expected to achieve and follow the rules. She gets it.
What sets Lopez apart is that she carries out her job with empathy.
As an exercise, my teachers broke into small groups and took a walk through the community. We wanted to understand how our students live. We went inside the housing projects. The parks and playgrounds were empty because it’s too dangerous. Even the library isn’t a safe zone. – Nadia Lopez via Humans of New York
The crucial piece of this story and a key takeaway for implications in the education system is how Lopez uses empathy and connection as a tool for success. She seems to look at what’s beneath the behavior and surface of her kids. As Vidal stated, she doesn’t suspend kids. This ends up benefitting them since we know punishments are not effective anyway. What is effective is when a student has a rapport and relationship with a teacher. This makes the student more conducive to learning and causes him to want to do well.
The school prides itself on what the principal, Nadia L. Lopez, calls its “holistic approach” to educating children for whom nothing can be taken for granted. Staff members lead peer groups on Monday afternoons to keep tabs on whether students have problems at school or at home, and try to teach coping strategies. – via The New York Times, December 2014
Lopez inspires her scholars to do well rather than coerce them. She reaches them on a deeper level and highlights their potential. She and her staff are utilizing relationships as the intervention point.
They keep kids close.
Perhaps once we recognize and prioritize the power of empathy, connection and relationships in the classroom, we will get the outcomes we desire and the futures our kids so desperately need.
If you agree, join the conversation and hashtag #KeepKidsClose!