Blurring the Lines Between Classroom and Community

Staff Reports

Yolanda Coley believes in bringing the community into the classroom while taking back into the community the passion for change that drives her as an educator.  The Sumter County Intermediate School Teacher of the Year finds ways to do both while teaching math to fifth graders.

“I believe that students are most motivated and interested when they are given a voice in the learning process through finding connections between the curriculum and their own lives and interests,” she said

Ms. Coley uses recipes as a way to learn fractions and uses the duties of a pharmacist to teach whole numbers.

“I believe these types of activities are the most memorable because they are hands on and not the traditional way of teaching.”

A big fan of professional learning,  Ms. Coley also sees community service as her responsibility for the change in the world she has committed to as a teacher.  She is very active in the many service-related projects of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority (AKA) and is involved in many ministries at her churches, including praise and worship team leader, children adult dance ministry leader, and children’s church teacher.

Outside the sorority and the church, Ms. Coley finds even more ways to do as Mahatma Gandhi said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”  For example: “After the death of a close friend, I founded the group ‘Lupus Trailblazers of Americus’ which hosts its annual ‘Walk to End Lupus’  event in May,” she said.

Ms. Coley also has important insight into the trends and issues in her field, especially the attack on the public schools and how best to improve education in America. She says that politicians blame the schools for the society’s inability to solve various social problems such as poverty, crime, and the disappearing middle class. They offer solutions that further compromise the educational system.

“It is my belief that, with the continued focus on privatizing public schools, America will fall behind in its race to compete with nations across the world,” she said. “The problem won’t be fixed with requiring teachers to only produce students with high test scores.”

Ms. Coley’s solution, instead, is to have higher standards for teachers entering the field of education, a strong curriculum, and resources for children who enroll in the public school system.  She is also a big fan of teacher accountability:

“Without teacher accountability, we leave room for those who are not as devoted to the profession as they should be, to lurk and ruin the lives of our students.”

If all of these issues are considered collectively,  Ms. Coley is hopeful about the future of public education:

“Once teachers are confident in the curriculum they are teaching, once they have higher standards to enter the field, and once children who are in poverty are provided with the resources they need to be successful, such as food and middle class values, then we have a shot at fixing our public schools.”