What's your education story?

In private school, she had a far different experience than her brothers in public school

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Shanae Staples went to a private school where she thrived. But she missed out on the neighborhood school experience.

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.

Shanae Staples worked as a public school teacher and Teach for America leader before joining the founding team of Enlace Academy, a charter school on Indy’s Westside. Now a Mind Trust fellow, Staples is working with Enlace principal Kevin Kubacki to plan a second school, Kindezi Academy, that is likely to take over management next year of School 69, a struggling elementary in Indianapolis Public Schools. We caught up with Staples last month to talk about her vision for high-quality neighborhood schools.

I grew up in a low-income, predominantly black neighborhood where I wasn’t educated in my community because my parents decided they wanted to put me in a private school that was really high performing. … I have three older brothers who attended the … local public schools that had been failing for a number of years.

I can remember as a 3, 4, 5-year-old, showing up to their schools. And my brothers were constantly being put out of classrooms. There were tons of kids in the hallway that were just sitting idly, throwing pencils across the floor. My brothers were never engaged. When they would come home and have to work on homework, they constantly were asking, you know, “I don’t remember learning this.” It was just so frustrating for my siblings and for my mom.

By the time that I was of school age, my parents made this decision — there were points when both of them were unemployed, (but) they were going to scrape up whatever they had and send me to the (private) school that they had heard was really excellent.

It was just a radically different experience and a radically different foundation than what my brothers had.

I had a teacher, Miss Fauntroy, a little old woman who would come down to the cars every single morning and greet every single one of her students and walk you up to the building. And she would ensure — knowing that I wasn’t from that community, knowing that I didn’t have any other siblings in the building — she would ask me about my day, she would tell me she loved my hair, she would ask me how my homework was.

Every single teacher I had invested in every single student. Everyone had high expectations. … They had great relationships with my parents. There were things that I couldn’t wait to get home to tell my mom about, and she was like, “oh yeah, well, I talked to Miss Fauntroy on my lunch break because she wanted to tell me because she was so excited that you presented this project and you did really well.” It was that type of powerful experience.

I had to get up at the crack of dawn with my mom who also had to go to work. I had to get ready. I was in before school care. My grandmother was picking me up because I couldn’t afford before and after school care. And my brothers were rolling out of bed and walking, literally one block to the elementary school. They were walking around the corner to go to the bus stop for their middle school.

I knew that there was a distinction between the friends that I was stepping outside with and hanging out with after school, and then when I was getting to school, none of them were there.

The friends that I developed at school didn’t live near me. There were tons of conversations between parents around coordinating, like “oh they can have a play date on this day, this works with my schedule.” … I was very cognizant of the fact that my friends from that school did not come to my house, I went to their house.

I left that school and returned to my community schools for middle school and high school. But when I got there, and I’m sitting in the same classrooms with some teachers that had had my brothers, that had suspended my brothers and that eventually two of my brothers had dropped out of. (But) I was having a radically different experience. I was put on an Advanced Placement track. I was constantly being pushing to apply for scholarships, to apply for colleges. I graduated at the top of my class.

As I got older and I started to be able to reflect on that experience, as I was old enough to understand the trajectory of my brothers lives, then I was able to kind of touch in with, “oh wow, my parents made extreme sacrifices to be able to provide me with that opportunity because they were so unhappy with the opportunities that were there for me in our community.”

All students deserve that opportunity, but they also deserve the opportunity to be in their neighborhood, to be with their friends, to be with their family members — to be able to walk up the street with friends to that school and know that that school is going to highly educate them.

Education defined the paths that my siblings and I were allowed to pursue. Because they didn’t have a strong primary foundation, because they didn’t have teachers who were saying, “you can do anything you want to, let’s figure out what you want to do and let’s work to get there.” The path that they were on in life was different than mine. Because I had that foundation and I had someone to give me that level of support, I had someone who knew me, who loved me, who wanted to highly educate me, the world was kind of my oyster.

What's Your Education Story?

Bodily fluids and belly buttons: How this Indianapolis principal embraces lessons learned the hard (and gross) way

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Christine Rembert at the Teacher Story Slam, April 19, 2018.

For Christine Rembert, principal at Francis W. Parker School 56 in Indianapolis Public Schools, education is the family business.

Her dad teaches chemistry to adults, and her mom is a retired high school English teacher. So it made sense that Rembert, too, would be an educator. As she has transitioned from a teacher to an administrator, she’s done a lot of learning — in fact, she considers herself not the person with all the answers, but the “lead learner” in her school.

And it hasn’t always been glamorous. Dealing with bodily fluids, for example, is a regular part of her day. As a new principal, she confronted that head-on in an anecdote she recounted 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. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity:

The last story I have to tell happened in my first few months as a school administrator, and I’ve learned many things from this story. I was sitting at my desk and doing some work, and my behavior person came in.

That’s the person who’s kind of the bouncer in the school who manages all the naughty kids. So we had that person, and she came in, and she was a tall woman — over 6 feet tall. She looked down at my desk, and she said: Do you want me to tell you the story first?

And I, in all my brand-new administrator wisdom, said no. And she goes, well, I have a teacher and a kid, and we need to talk to you.

And I was like, OK come on in!

Well, note to self: When the behavior person says do you want me to tell you the story, you need to say yes right then.

Because the reason is you have to not laugh.

So the teacher came in, and she has a Clorox wipe, and she’s (frantically wiping her nose). And I was like, OK, that’s weird. She sat down, and the child came in, and she was kind of sad.

I proceeded to hear the story whereby the child had stuck her finger into her (wet) belly button and then held it up to the teacher’s nose and said: Smell my finger.

Public education is like living in a fraternity house.

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

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


What's Your Education Story?

How this Indianapolis high school teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at the Teacher Story Slam, April 19, 2018.

To say that Sarah TeKolste and her student, Lori Jenkins, started off on the wrong foot would be an understatement.

New to teaching, TeKolste had high hopes for her Spanish class at Emmerich Manual High School, but she was met with sullen students who missed their former teacher. TeKolste wanted to forge a connection with Jenkins and her friends, who sat each day in the back of the class making their displeasure with her teaching blatantly obvious.

But TeKolste didn’t give up — on teaching Spanish or trying to reach Jenkins, who was dealing with personal issues that made school the least of her worries. Now, years later, both agree the tears, exasperation, and efforts were worth it. The two have grown so close, in fact, that Jenkins made TeKolste the godmother of her daughter.

TeKolste and Jenkins were two 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 their story. It has been lightly edited for length and clarity:

Sarah TeKolste: Aug. 4, It’s the first day of my first year as a teacher. I basically meticulously tailored my resume for the past five years for this moment where I’ll become a Spanish teacher for Teach For America.

And I’ve done all these ridiculous things like make this classroom management system that’s very detailed, and I’d made this classroom vision, and I think I’m really ready for what I’m getting myself into. I’m starting at Emmerich Manual High School.

I spent the summer getting prepared, and I’m basically an overly caffeinated nervous wreck.

On the first day of school, about 50 percent of my students come into my classroom, and they are just royally pissed that they don’t have Ms. Brito as their Spanish teacher anymore. That’s probably my first clue that things might not go super smoothly that semester.

Lori Jenkins: It was my senior year and I wasn’t very thrilled because last year we were informed that there were going to be a lot of changes in our staff and faculty and policy.

And as much as I hate to admit it, I had issues with change because a lot of my life has been constant change, and I had no control over it. Due to financial issues at home with my family, and my hormones and emotions were through the roof. I was just going through a lot at the time. But the only place that I had hope for solace was Ms. Brito’s class.

And when I arrived to Spanish class, there was no Brito. Ms. TeKolste’s upbeat smile, her happiness, it irritated my soul. My safe haven was taken from me, and I had to find it somewhere else, in someone or something else.

Check out the video below to hear the rest of TeKolste and Jenkins’ story.

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