“When my students see me advocate for them, I hope that I’m modeling the ways they’ll need to advocate for themselves – for their education, families, schools, and communities.”
Dr. Jericah Jackson
Aldine Young Women’s Leadership Academy
The inspiration for my entire journey – in STEM, in supporting young women – began in childhood. I’ve always gravitated to math and science, which led me to a STEM magnet school, which ultimately led to my studying Pre-Med in college.
But I never thought I would get into education until a family friend encouraged me to consider it. Knowing this was a significant departure from the medical field, I tested the waters by becoming a substitute teacher. And on that very first day as a substitute, I fell in love.
I shouldn’t have been so surprised by that shift. I have experiences of what access – or lack thereof – can look like.
That became especially clear for me when I took my students on a field trip to the Sally Ride Science Festival. It offers us a whole day for our students to tour a college campus and to meet scientists, engineers, even astronauts. And I observed that, because of those interactions, the girls realized they could aspire to be just like them.
I don’t settle for aspirations. I want them to become realities. So I formed a Science Olympiad team, one that ultimately performed at a college level in competitions. And I noticed how the confidence of my students swelled when they won a competition – especially against schools that had more resources. That confidence only served to drive them even more to expand their horizons and build their capacities.
That’s not such an unfamiliar feeling for me.
In elementary and middle school, I wasn’t a “gifted and talented” kid. We were grouped according to our reading proficiency, and I vividly remember desperately wanting to be in the advanced group. They were doing much more engaging and rigorous work. I eavesdropped during recess and learned that many of them were applying to a magnet school focused on science and math. Now math and science? That I knew I could do.
And I got in. I finally got to be a part of this learning environment that promoted advanced learning. However, when I came across a complex passage to read or a problem to solve, I had this fear of asking questions. I was afraid that someone would think that I didn’t belong because I was not labeled as the gifted and talented student. I had what can only be described as Imposter Syndrome. I remember always looking at the door and waiting for an administrator to enter and tell me that I didn’t belong there.
That didn’t happen, but I worried. And that fear prevented me from asking questions. So I really struggled. I studied in isolation because I didn’t want anyone to tell me I didn’t belong.
I don’t want that to be the case for my students. I want them to have equitable access. I want them to feel like they belong. And I want them to be given chances. And while I believe in high expectations, I also believe in offering these girls as much support as we can.
Advocacy is one of the six guiding principles of Aldine Young Women’s Leadership Academy. And as Principal, I advocate every day!
Whether it’s to our parents or our school board, whether it’s asking for more resources or to take advantage of a new opportunity – you have to advocate. Advocating effectively means taking ownership, ensuring consistency, communicating clearly, leading with empathy, and celebrating accomplishments.
When my students see me advocate for them, I hope that I’m modeling the ways they’ll need to advocate for themselves – for their education, families, schools, and communities. We want the best for ourselves, but we don’t want to leave people behind. We don’t want to be alone at the top, so we have to lift others along the way, and it’s our opportunity to break down institutional barriers that society has placed.
Another key trait of being a strong advocate? Asking questions. To just ask – to break through that fear of seeming incompetent or “less than.” I’ve come a long way from that scared little girl who was afraid to do so. Just ask.
Dr. Jericah Jackson is a member of the Graham-Pelton-supported Global Mentoring Network for Aspiring Leaders, hosted by the National Coalition of Girls’ Schools.
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