Kierra Daniels is a 2022 graduate of Booker T. Washington High School and currently attends Southern University in Baton Rouge. 

She plans to be an educator when she graduates. She knows it’s a powerful role. 

“I want to be a teacher because when you work with a child, and you see that what you’re teaching them actually sparks in their head, you’re like, ‘wow, I did that. I’m teaching the people that could be the next President or lawyers–it starts with me,” she explains. “I don’t want to sound like I’m, you know, the reason–but it’s fun, and it’s something that is helpful. It’s helping other people. And it’s something I’m very passionate about.” 

Daniels is one of nearly one hundred students and alums in the KIPP Alumni Teaching Force, which is currently led by longtime educator Scarlet Cornelius. As part of the teaching force, Daniels took a class about education her senior year, and student-taught during the school week at KIPP Central City Primary. While in college, she will teach summer school each summer at a KIPP elementary school, and when she graduates, she’s guaranteed a job at a KIPP school. 

Daniels learned about the teaching force from two friends who were in it already.“When they told me they were going over to KIPP Central City Primary, I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, that’s so cool.’ I wanted to do that. They were like, ‘Talk to Ms. Cornelius. We need to get you in this class.’  Because all three of us have the same interest–we all want to be teachers.

They were telling me about interacting with the kids and how they feel like the class really is prepping them for the future. I was like, ‘that would be perfect for me,’” says Daniels.

Ms. Cornelius welcomed Daniels into the class, and Daniels began working in a kindergarten classroom at KIPP Central City Primary. She helped the classroom teacher and worked one-on-one with some students. She loved it immediately.

I was like, ‘I really want to do this–this is something I could find myself doing a lot,” she says.

Daniels was eager to tell Ms. Cornelius about her time at KIPP Central City Primary.

“Ms. Cornelius would literally get bum-rushed with all of us coming back at once like, ‘they did this, we did that, this thing happened!’ We would tell her everything that happened,” Daniels says. They’d ask for advice and plan for next time.

While some students, like Daniels, entered Ms. Cornelius’ class knowing they wanted to teach, others, like Kenyel Johnson, joined with a different career in mind.

“I never was like, ‘I want to be a teacher. That was something I never was interested in–ever. I wanted to go to school for psychology. That was my thing since middle school,” she says.

But the teaching class fit well with her senior year schedule, and Ms. Cornelius convinced her to give it a try. She tried out student teaching and found she enjoyed it.  

“The teaching changed my mind,” she says. She liked that even the youngest students were eager to talk about big ideas and “deep questions.” She’d ask them about how they wanted to change the world and held great respect for their answers.  

You know, kids understand a lot. They really do. And I feel like it’s our job as teachers to open up their minds,” she says.

Even though teaching felt like a fit in many ways, she wanted to keep pursuing her interest in psychology. When she began at Delgado Community College, she started off as a criminal justice major, knowing that psychology would be crucial in that work. 

But early in her school year, a personal tragedy shifted Johnson’s path.

“My first semester, like a week after I started school, my dad passed away. So I was just like, ‘you know, I want to give up.’ I really did,” she says. “I was getting up every day and going to classes, but I was just like, th  I’m is is not what I want to be.”

“I was telling my mom, ‘maybe I should figure out another major. I know how to do hair – maybe I should be a cosmetology student,’ she explained. But that didn’t feel like a fit, either. 

She got in touch with Ms. Cornelius, who suggested she consider pursuing teaching. As a member of the KIPP Alumni Teaching Force, she’d be able to student teach that summer, and she’d have a job waiting for her after graduation from Delgado. She could work as a paraprofessional, and have KIPP’s support as she pursued her bachelor’s degree. Once she earned it, she’d have a role as a full-time lead teacher. Johnson was overwhelmed, but willing to give it a try.  

 “So I worked with them at KIPP over the summer. I had my own classroom. And I really connected deeply with the students. I really enjoyed being around the kids every day. I told Ms. Cornelius, ‘well, maybe I should become an education major,’” she says. 

This experience not only changed her college experience, but has set her plans for the future.

“On the days when I want to give up so bad because, you know, life happens, I’ll just be like ‘no, once I graduate, Ms. Cornelius is right there saying, well, look, we have a job for you.’ It motivates me a lot,” she says. “That’s a main worry as a college student–when I get this degree, what do I do next? Where is my life going to go after that? So I’m really blessed to not have to question that.” 

Daniels, too, is grateful for the clarity the program gives her future. One of her classmates at Southern is also a Booker T. Washington alum and Teaching Force member. She says that sometimes, they playfully congratulate one another on being a part of the Teaching Force.

We always joke, like, ‘who do you know that has a job straight out of college?’ It gives me motivation to actually push through and finish college because it’s like some people are like, ‘Oh, this degree doesn’t mean anything after I graduate.’ But I’m going to have a job,” she says.  

“People are searching high and low for jobs that don’t have anything to do with their degree, but I have a job, in something I want to do, to be a teacher–going back to New Orleans and becoming a teacher,” Daniels explains.  

She knows that, as a teacher who was recently a student, she’ll be able to empathize with her students in important ways. She feels that she’ll help not just them, but our city as a whole.

“We’ve been in their shoes before,” she says. “Getting teachers that are from New Orleans, and that understand what they might be going through, and understand the culture of New Orleans…it’s going to help. I feel like we’re giving back to our community as well.”

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