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.

story slam

Tips for teaching poetry in a women’s prison: ‘Remember, you are not allowed to hug anyone’

PHOTO: Lwp Kommunikáció, Flickr CC
Inmates at the Indiana Women's Prison.

Editor’s note: This story was about a video taken at a story slam hosted by Chalkbeat, Teachers Lounge Indy, WFYI Public Media, and the Indianapolis Public Library. We removed the video at the request of the speaker, who was not authorized to speak publicly about his experience teaching in a women’s prison.

If you are looking for insights about what it’s like to teach poetry in a women’s prison, try this Rumpus piece or this interview with a 20-year veteran of prison schools. You can find more stories from Indianapolis educators, students, and parents here.

It's Friday. Just show a video.

How a push to save some of Indiana’s oldest trees taught this class about the power of speaking out

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Students working at the School for Community Learning, a progressive Indianapolis private school that depends on vouchers.

Alayna Pierce was one of seven teachers who participated in story slam sponsored by Chalkbeat, Teachers Lounge Indy, WFYI Public Media and the Indianapolis Public Library on Sept. 5. Every teacher shared stories about their challenges and triumphs in Circle City classrooms.

Pierce’s story is a letter she wrote to her second and third grade students at the School for Community Learning, a private school in Indianapolis. In it, she recounts how they came together as a class and as a community to save some of the state’s oldest trees.

Check out the video below to hear Pierce’s story.

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