What's your education story?

His journey from school to law led back to education

PHOTO: Scott Elliott
Ahmed Young, 36, will oversee Mayor Joe Hogsett's city-sponsored charter schools and the office of education innovation.

Chalkbeat journalists ask the people we come across in our work to tell us about their education stories and how learning shaped who they are today. Learn more about this series, and read other installments, here.

Ahmed Young is the city’s new education director under Mayor Joe Hogsett. He grew up mostly in Washington, D.C., before moving to Indianapolis when his mother took a job at Indiana University. We met with him earlier this month to talk about his plans for his new job. Here’s his story:

One of the first lessons from my mom I can remember was to find something to do for someone else on your birthday. On my birthday, I would go to Mrs. Pearsall’s house and ask if I can take out the trash or rake leaves or something. She is just an advocate for people. That was her initial entree into education. She got a degree in early childhood education and was a kindergarten teacher. She was our advocate growing up. She filled whatever holes there was in our education. You could not say the B word: “bored.” She found some activity for us to learn.

I came here to go to Indiana University. I was in a fantastic program called Project Team that focused on multicultural education. I studied teaching and cultural competency. As I finished up the teacher education program, I did student teaching at Broad Ripple High School and got hired. Then moved to Craig Middle School in Lawrence Township. I had a great building leader, Bill Gavaghan, who gave me space to grow and learn from failures as a new teacher.

I met my wife though Upward Bound through IUPUI. I was running it and she was a last-minute hire as a counselor. I was her boss. The roles have flipped, I can assure you. She moved to New York City, so after four years in Lawrence Township, I moved there too.

I interviewed with New York  City Department of Education. The lady said, “I have the perfect principal in the Bronx.” There I met Andrea Cypress, who ran the School for Inquiry and Social Justice. I had done so much reading on social justice in education, I figured it was meant to be. She said, “Can you do a lesson tomorrow?” I did and the students got into it. The one student who didn’t was a student of mine the next year. I still remember his name. Milton. I still remember him.

I liked the challenge of law school. My father-in-law, Judge (David) Shaeed highly recommended it. I got a scholarship and law school provided all the challenges I expected: intellectual challenges, time management challenges, life balance challenges. But it was great to have the support system of both my families.

It feels like I am drinking water from the fire hydrant now. They have a great team at the Office of Education Initiatives. I want to learn from them and find ways to advocate for fully funded preschool education. I want to go to the Statehouse and make the case to get fully funded preschool education statewide. We appreciate the pilot program but it’s the tip of the iceberg.

What's Your Education Story?

Her motto was ‘There’s no crying in teaching’ … until she actually became a teacher

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Allissa Impink at the Teacher Story Slam, April 19, 2018.

Allissa Impink started her teaching career determined to make a difference.

As a Teach For America corps member, she headed into her first job as a special education teacher in 2015. A former social worker, Impink had a strong background helping children and witnessing tough situations. She was prepared, she thought.

But becoming a teacher and facing the realities of leading a classroom challenged her in ways she couldn’t have imagined.

Impink, now a teacher at Cold Spring School in Indianapolis Public Schools, was one of eight educators and students who participated in a recent story slam sponsored by Chalkbeat, Teachers Lounge Indy, WFYI Public Media and the Indianapolis Public Library.

Here’s an excerpt of her story about how she made her transition into teaching and what she faced in her first year. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity:

In 1992, in my opinion, one of the greatest movies of all time came out — “A League of Their Own,” starring Tom Hanks and Geena Davis. When I quickly set the scene for you, Tom Hanks, who stars as Jimmy Dugan, is yelling at one of his female players, who made multiple, multiple mistakes throughout the game. He yells to her, “Are you crying? Are you crying? There’s no crying in baseball!”

Well, there’s no crying in teaching.

I was an English major in college, and it was my goal to become an English teacher upon graduation. However, due to college athletics, I was unable to realize that goal of obtaining my teaching license through the School of Education route. So in 2006 upon graduation from college, I interviewed for Teach For America. I was onto my third and final interview round, but apparently crying during an interview is not the best way to show empathy.

“Dear Allissa, we regret to inform you that you have not been selected to join the 2006 corps.”

So change of plans — social work. I was a social worker at the Department of Child Services for eight years. The typical tenure of DCS social workers directly out of college was six months. I’ve done my best to fight off the secondary trauma, and sleepless nights, and the politics of all of it.

Are we really doing what’s best for children, I would ask myself. Are we really keeping kids safe? Does the administration know what we really are going through? Have they ever performed a home visit? Do you know what it’s like to be on call and to remove a child from their home at 3 a.m. in the morning? I needed a new career.

I needed a transition to a career where I was still focused on children, and families, and the community. I still wanted to work hard and make a difference. I wanted to give back and I still wanted to teach. So I interviewed for Teach for America for the second time in 2014. Social work had hardened me. I was no longer a crier. I’m an experienced adult now. I’ve been a supervisor, I’ve testified in court, I’ve led trainings, I’ve supported families, I’ve bonded with children — Hell, I’ve kept children safe.

“Dear Allissa, Congratulations! We are pleased to inform you that you’ve been accepted to the 2015 corps.”

I cried often my first year of teaching, but what I’m not is a quitter.

Check out the video below to hear the rest of Impink’s story.

You can find more stories from educators, students, and parents here.


What's Your Education Story?

Putting money in the bank for college: One Indianapolis teacher’s call to action

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Katie Johnson at the Teacher Story Slam, April 19, 2018.

Indianapolis educator Katie Johnson has made it her mission to tell students not only that they can go to college, but that they can afford it, too.

Some of her families at KIPP Indy College Prep Middle School, she said, don’t even realize the opportunities they have to enroll in programs like 21st Century Scholars, a high school program that helps students from low-income backgrounds earn a full ride to a state university or college.

Johnson, a college counselor, was one of eight educators and students who participated in last week’s story slam sponsored by Chalkbeat, Teachers Lounge Indy, WFYI Public Media and the Indianapolis Public Library.

Here’s an excerpt of her story about how she and her colleagues are working to encourage students to prepare for college — academically and financially. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity:

“This is a call to action. So part of my role at my school is to, one, help our 8th graders find their best fit school.

Another piece is to help our kiddos learn about college. If you walk through our hallways, you will see pennants, you will see flags — each homeroom is named after a university. Every single grade level, K-8, goes on a college field lesson every year. So college is everywhere.

When I started working at this school, I was a gym teacher and I loved it. I was an athlete all in college, and it was just a great opportunity to teach all the kiddos what I’d been learning about taking care of my body and working out.

About three years ago, four years ago, I started the position I have now. And one thing I’ve noticed — has anyone heard of 21st Century Scholars? — is only 30 percent of my eighth graders were leaving my school signed up. And I’m a 21st Century Scholar, and so my mission was to make sure that our babies were signed up.

So since I’ve been in this role, we’ve been signing up 90 percent of our eighth-graders to leave our school signed up for that program.

And so I thought about, OK, If I can get 90 percent of our families signed up for 21st Century Scholars, how else can I get our kiddos and families thinking about the cost of college early?”

Check out the video below to hear the rest of Johnson’s story, where she goes on to explain the new initiative her school is taking on and how it’s already changing how her students think about life after high school.

You can find more stories from educators, students and parents here.