Adrian Pruett is a 7th grade math teacher and co-Grade Level Chair at YES Prep Southside. We interviewed her about her path to YES Prep, her decision to return to teaching in Houston’s 3rd Ward community, and her recent Kinder award. For more, read Pruett’s guest blog posts here and here.
I attended Howard University and graduated in 2011. I’ve been wanting to teach since 2nd grade, so I joined Teach For America. I taught 6th, 7th, and 8th grade math, math enrichment, and technology in a school in Houston’s 3rd Ward. After two years at that school, I applied to teach at YES Prep. I then co-taught 7th grade math for three years at YES Prep Southeast. I was also grade level chair for two years, before transferring to YES Prep Southside so that I could work in the 3rd Ward community again.
Why did you apply to teach at YES Prep?
I was looking for a place where I could be developed and nourished as a teacher so that I could do that for my students as well. I was also looking for more resources and connections, and when I found out about YES Prep’s Content Teams, it opened my eyes. It’s amazing to be connected with educators across the system that have so much experience so that I’m not working on an island, like I was at my first school.
You mentioned wanting to work in the 3rd Ward community again. Why is that?
Throughout the last school year at Southeast, I started having these moments where it was becoming more and more difficult for me to ignore how wide the educational gaps are for students born in this community– and African American communities like it throughout the country. As an educator and as someone who grew up in a community without educational resources near home, I felt as though I couldn’t go another year without doing something about this gap. I knew leaving YES Prep Southeast would be one of the hardest things I ever did– and it definitely was– but I feel so fulfilled, even on the roughest days, that I’m doing something very valuable at YES Prep Southside.
Tell us about the community where you grew up.
It was southwest Atlanta. The schools near our home were underperforming on all levels. The deficit was so bad that they made bussing programs to bus students to the northern communities to meet minority quotas. Yes, there are magnet schools and bussing programs in Houston too, but I believe very strongly that you should be able to get a quality education in your community. You shouldn’t have to leave to get an education. Within your community and your home, there should be opportunities.
What has it been like to transition from YES Prep Southeast to YES Prep Southside? Southside is one of YES Prep’s newest campuses and the first to target Houston’s Sunnyside and 3rd Ward communities.
As with any transition, there are difficulties. The challenges I work through push me to constantly act on my firm belief that students at Southside want to succeed as much any other student in the district. Our students are as loving and intelligent and thoughtful as any students I’ve ever worked with. They face challenges that are systemic and ages old. As educators, we often want to jump to the content without taking apart those challenges. There are a lot of soft skills that are now a part of my curriculum that I didn’t used to teach. I can’t teach math without also teaching a student how to respond authentically and appropriately.
You won the Kinder award this year. Congratulations! What was it like to win?
Sarah Watson at Southeast made sure I entered my name in the applicant pool and she also wrote my recommendation letter. I wasn’t going to do it because it was my first year eligible and I have so much respect for how long it takes to be a quality educator.
They told me that YES Prep Southeast was doing a Flashback Friday pep rally and that they wanted me to come surprise the students by singing the national anthem, like I did for graduation last year. When I got there, they told me that they wanted to sing me something first. Tanya and Charlie (of YES Prep Southeast) started singing a song that my mom used to sing every day before I left to school. I was standing there wondering what was going on and then I heard my mom’s voice chime in. I lost it. They opened a curtain and my entire family was there. Like 22 in all. They’d flown from Atlanta, Ohio, and driven from Dallas. It was really amazing. They’re a phenomenal support team. Check out the video below of Pruett’s Kinder surprise.