Achievement First strives to recruit a talented and diverse team of educators because we know that teachers and school leaders who share the racial and/or socioeconomic backgrounds of our students are poised to be especially effective role models in the classroom.
"Many organizations talk about closing the achievement gap, but Achievement First is actually doing it. I tell my students they might be the first in their families to graduate from college, but they won’t be the last. College degrees not only change individual lives, but they change the lives of families. At Achievement First, I’m a part of that process."
Undergraduate Degree: Westfield State University
Master’s Degree: Cambridge College
Tonya loved working with students, but she grew frustrated after several years at both traditional public schools and public charter schools by what she saw as a culture of low expectations. Scores seemed more important than students, school leaders did not hold teachers accountable, and, most important, she no longer felt like she was learning. As a mother, Tonya wanted to work for a school where she would happily send her own sons. In 2011, Tonya joined AF Hartford High because she wanted to grow to have a greater impact on her students. An aspiring principal, she also knew that Achievement First would invest in developing her career by providing support and opportunities for school leadership.
The mother of three boys—21-year-old Taylor, 8-year-old Deandrea and 6-year-old Martin—Tonya appreciates that her role provides the flexibility to put her family first. She attends all of her sons’ school events and after-school activities, and she helps her youngest sons with homework every night. Outside of school, she is also writing her dissertation for her Ed.D. in education and leadership, which is focused on using iPads to encourage student voice and engagement. To balance these many responsibilities, Tonya has learned to prioritize tasks so she can complete them during her prep periods.
Tonya knows that teaching the values of diversity and inclusiveness is critical because she is preparing her students to enter a global world. Her students may not have opportunities to travel to Europe in high school like some of their more affluent peers, but they will need to recognize, embrace and respect people who come from many different backgrounds and cultures to be successful.
Proudest moment at Achievement First: "At the beginning of the year, my students couldn’t justify how they arrived at their answers. ‘It won’t cross the thing,’ they’d say, ‘because it has that thingy.’ Now, my students sound like young mathematicians. ‘No, it won’t cross the x-axis,’ one student might say, ‘because at no point will the exponential function equal zero. Even with a negative exponent, it will still be a positive fraction.’ The growth my students have made in one year is incredible."
Why diversity and inclusiveness are important: "If we want to be innovators and drive change in the world, we need teachers who come from different backgrounds. Every student needs to be able to see and identify with someone who achieved success. One student might look at his teacher and think, ‘Mr. Uwalaka is from Nigeria like me … if he could do it, I can too.’ A parent might think, ‘Ms. Claiborne was a young mother like me … if she could do it, we can too.’ If you’ve shared the experience of even one student or one family, you can move milestones."
"I love facilitating my school’s professional development sessions on diversity and inclusiveness. It’s helped me become an ‘organic mentor’ to many colleagues of color at my school."
Undergraduate Degree: University of Miami
Graduate Degree: Lehman College
Cristina had long noticed that she was the only Latina in her engineering classes and jobs, but a senior-year seminar opened her eyes to the educational injustice of the achievement gap. By helping her put academic language to the inequalities she had witnessed in her life, the class solidified her conviction that educational opportunity was part of the reason that she was on her way to attaining an engineering degree while many promising Latinas she had known were not following her to graduation. So Cristina, who had several prestigious engineering internships on her resume and was looking forward to a bright career in science and technology, changed her career path. She entered the classroom to help fix the educational injustice she saw and help other Latinas graduate from college and pursue careers in science, technology and engineering.
In 2008, Cristina joined Teach For America to teach physics in the Bronx, an experience that affirmed her belief that all students can achieve remarkable results when they are given access to a high-quality education. Now a physics teacher at AF Brooklyn High, she enjoys working as part of a team that is driving toward one goal— that all students will be prepared to graduate from college. She has also grown as a teacher; feedback from her coach and collaboration with her colleagues has helped bolster her curriculum’s rigor and increase her students’ conceptual understanding of physics. In addition to teaching, Cristina has had the opportunity to influence network-wide curriculum decisions, such as teaching physics in ninth grade rather than 11th-grade so that students are prepared to tackle the math they encounter in 10th-grade chemistry. She also participates in a network-wide community group for people of color across Achievement First’s New York schools.
Proudest moment at Achievement First: "We talk every day in class about how life would not be possible without physics, but there's nothing more alive than riding a roller coaster. That’s why, every year, I take my students to Six Flags. They measure g-forces while spinning on the Green Lantern. They take measurements on the Tilt-A-Whirl of its circumference to calculate centripetal force. There is nothing more rewarding than seeing my students excited to learn about science and technology, especially as they start to consider college majors and careers."
Why diversity and inclusiveness are important: “In order for our students to be successful, they need to know and love themselves, including the parts of their identity that relate to their race and ethnicity. Our team is committed to ensuring the values of diversity and inclusiveness live and breathe outside of professional development sessions. We’re constantly asking ourselves, ‘How can we do more to help our students affirm their identities?’ We have more work to do as a network, but Achievement First is committed to moving in the right direction because we know how important it is that we do this work for our students.”
"Working as the student life coordinator at AF Amistad High is the first job where I feel like all of my academic degrees and work experiences are constantly utilized."
Undergraduate degree: University of Connecticut
Graduate degree: Albertus Magnus
Ebony initially wanted to pursue a career in sports management. She student-managed the iconic UConn Huskies basketball team as an undergrad, and, after completing her MBA in 2010, she was offered her dream job: helping build the Tulsa Shock, a new WNBA team, from scratch. In less than 28 hours, Ebony moved from her native Connecticut to Oklahoma. As part of her event planning responsibilities for the team, she coordinated “School Day,” encouraging businesses to donate so that local children from underserved communities could attend WNBA games and meet the players. When family responsibilities called her back to Connecticut, her experiences working with students helped Ebony realize that her true passion might be in education.
A first-generation college student, Ebony struggled to pay for college during her freshman year at the University of Connecticut because she had not received the support she needed to correctly fill out her financial aid forms. As she learned more about AF Amistad High, she knew she wanted to be part of a school that was truly preparing students for success in college. In her current role, Ebony utilizes her event planning expertise to create the joyful school-wide celebrations integral to AF Amistad High’s college-focused culture, from “Mama Pajama Monday” and “Get Fit Friday” during the school’s spirit week to fundraisers like the staff-student basketball game and field trips to colleges and universities. In addition, she advises the student government and senior committee, coordinates community service opportunities for students, and inspires students through daily teambuilding presentations. Ebony, who attended excellent public schools in Hamden, a nearby town, loves that she is able to act as a role model for young people from her community while working in a challenging and creative environment.
Proudest moment at Achievement First: "As the adviser of our student government, I love watching our students grow as leaders. Our treasurer recently wanted to implement a new school uniform initiative, so I was able to work with him and some of his classmates so that they could present this plan to the school’s leadership team. Our students will need strong self-advocacy skills to succeed in college, and student government provides them with a critical opportunity to make their voices heard."
Why diversity and inclusiveness are important: "The more teachers and leaders of color we have, the more we can help change our students’ perceptions about racial identity and what is possible for them. I grew up in this community and I look like many of my students. Since my students see that I have been successful in a variety of career fields, they gain confidence that they can accomplish their goals as well. However, just like I valued joining a Bible study group in college with students from multiple religions and getting to know classmates from Ethiopia and Laos, our students also benefit from having teachers from a variety of backgrounds who are helping prepare them to succeed in a diverse and global world."
"My experience as a first-generation college student motivates me to prepare my students for future success because I know how hard I had to work to catch up in college, and I want to make the climb just a little bit easier for my students."
Undergraduate Degree: Arizona State University
Graduate Degree: American University
A former U.S. Marine, Chris knew how to overcome obstacles. During a tour in Afghanistan, he helped recapture the American Embassy in Kabul. Yet despite his past experiences, Chris still felt unprepared for the challenges he faced as a first-generation college student at Arizona State University. Chris selected the school’s most rigorous major—physics—and quickly learned he would have to work harder than many of his peers to navigate the college landscape. Now, Chris provides his students, most of whom will be the first in their families to graduate from college, with the skills they will need to succeed on a college campus.
When Chris first entered AF Bushwick Middle on a school visit, he was inspired by the passion teachers showed in their subject areas and by how eagerly their students responded to this excitement. He initially joined the school as a seventh-grade math teacher following two years as a Teach For America corps member in Washington D.C. Now an academic dean at Elm City College Prep Middle, he coaches other teachers to increase student engagement and achievement.
Proudest moment at Achievement First: "We explicitly teach our students character values, such as zest, grit and optimism. During Community Circle, it’s incredibly rewarding to watch fifth- through eighth-grade students talk about times when they demonstrated ‘grit,’ because I know they are internalizing values early on that will make them successful in college."
Why diversity and inclusiveness are important: "All of our students are unique, so it’s important that we have teachers from a variety of backgrounds and that our teachers have the skills to relate to every child. As a veteran, I appreciate that everyone at Achievement First is bringing his or her diverse talents and perspectives toward our shared commitment to something greater than ourselves and is ‘walking in lockstep’ to achieve our mission of placing students on a college-bound path."
Achievement First’s mission is to provide all of our students with the academic and character skills they need to graduate from top colleges, to succeed in a competitive world and to serve as the next generation of leaders for our communities. In carrying out this mission, we believe that teachers who share racial, socioeconomic or first-generation college backgrounds with our students bring an important perspective to our schools. Achievement First also strives to create an inclusive working environment where people from all backgrounds can bring their authentic selves to work—regardless of race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age or sex. We believe our students are best served by a team that represents the global community for which our students are being prepared.
Learn more by downloading our full Diversity and Inclusiveness Statement.