Rachael Gainer is the 7th and 8th grade science teacher at Harriet Tubman Charter School. A graduate of Smith College, Gainer will be entering her third year as an educator this August.
It was in college where Gainer first realized she had a passion to be in the classroom. “As I became more aware of the injustices in the education system, I realized I wanted to be active in finding a solution,” she said. “I know we have made a lot of positive impacts, but we still have work to do. I know it is important for me to stay with my scholars at Harriet Tubman.”
When asked about her favorite part of teaching, Gainer said she enjoys the power of being able to open young minds to new theories or ideas. “As an educator you get to impart knowledge to your scholars and spark a desire to consider something their minds had never considered before,” she said. Gainer adds that, in addition to what she can teach in her classroom, she also values what she can learn from her scholars. “I keep my ears and eyes open so I am constantly able to learn things, especially about New Orleans.”
Gainer acknowledges that one of the challenges of teaching is finding ways to invest her students in learning. “I grew up in an environment where memorization and repetition were the tools used to pass information from teacher to student. At Tubman we bring the classroom to life, but in order to do this I’ve had to relearn what it means to be both a teacher and a student.”
Gainer attributes her growth in the past two years to the team at Crescent City Schools and Harriet Tubman. “I can’t imagine any other organization providing its staff with the level of support I have received here. I know that each day I come to work someone is going to push me to be a better teacher,” she said. Gainer also recognizes the growth she has seen in herself as a student. “Working at Harriet Tubman means that you are always responding to feedback, not only from colleagues, but also from students. This has allowed me to practice the skills of listening and learning from others.”
The 8th grade class of 2015 at Harriet Tubman Charter School attended its Farewell Ceremony on June 4. The evening was full of heartfelt goodbyes and well wishes as 8th grade teachers took the opportunity to speak about each graduating scholar. After remarks were given by 8th graders, Shyan Lawson and Da’Quan Jefferson, each scholar stood up to proudly announce the high school he or she will be attending in the fall.
Tubman’s Director of Family & Community, Angelo Cross, expressed how the high school decision-making process is vital to our scholars’ future. “We believe that the next four years are crucial in ensuring that students build the skills and habits of mind necessary to succeed in college. We are excited that our scholars have selected high schools that will keep them on that path to college,” he said. This was a particularly special Farewell Ceremony as over 90% of the graduates will be attending a “high-performing” high school, which we define as sending 85% or more of its graduating class to college.
Harriet Tubman Charter School 6th grade teacher and Team Leader Gary Briggs was recognized on May 20 for his excellence in the classroom by The Collective – Greater New Orleans (GNO).
Briggs, who has taught at Tubman since it’s inception in 2011, has been an influential leader for not only his colleagues but also the community at large. His accomplishments were acknowledged last week during the “Making an Impact Together: Catalysts for Change” event, where he received the Alumni Continued Excellence in the Classroom Award.
The Collective – GNO, is an association of Teach For America’s alumni of color. The organization works to empower students, the community, and alumni to take action towards creating educational equity in New Orleans. They accomplish this by serving students in partnership with the community, building strong ties, and nurturing the leadership potential amongst alumni of color.
Briggs acknowledged what this award means to him. “Being honored by The Collective, a group that cares deeply about ensuring that every child in our city receives an excellent education, was truly humbling. The Collective strongly believes that people of color offer unique perspectives in the classroom, understanding that as a group we hold the potential to influence the lives of thousands of students across the city.”
The Harriet Tubman Charter School Dance Team was featured in the 2nd Annual MindSteppers Championship on May 15 at the NORDC Lyons Center. With over 100 public school children from Orleans and Jefferson Parishes participating, Tubman scholars took home various awards from the event. MindSteppers was created with the mission to spark interest in partner dancing among kids and teens; a social activity which has been shown to improve children’s behavior, build their self-confidence, and teach them social and life skills.
Scholars competed in Swing Dance, Salsa, Waltz, Tango, and Merengue. Fifth graders Khamani Simmons and Lajae Todd took home the 1st place award for swing dancing; while 6th grade scholars Armond Jupiter and Warrenisha Washington came in 3rd place. Tubman scholars were also recognized in the Merengue category, as 5th graders Belvin Baker and Ja’mari Myles placed 1st. In the same category, 5th graders Khamani Simmons and Lajae Todd placed 3rd, and 5th graders Khalil Brooks and Raygan Taylor placed 5th.
Ribbons and trophies were awarded according to merit, and dance scholarships were awarded to the competition winners so they may continue learning at a private New Orleans dance studio.
Harriet Tubman dance coaches Kaitlynn Cunningham and Krista Rae Szaflarski enjoyed watching their students grow from this experience. “It has been fun to see them embrace dancing. Their hard work and dedication really paid off,” said Cunningham. “I was most impressed with their ownership and commitment to learning their dances and creating unity among the entire team,” Szaflarski added.
The championship is the culmination of the MindSteppers Teacher -Training Program, aimed at getting partner dancing and its associated benefits in schools across the area.