For Frankford High School alum, Latoya Clay, there is a long list of accomplishments. Not only has she received three master’s degrees in science and math, statistics and secondary education, but she is the winner of a Knowles Science Teaching Foundation (KSTF) fellowship.
As a mother of three children — nine-years-old, four-years-old and 18 months — Clay has never paid for college. Searching vigorously in her graduate student handbook for awards and fellowships, Clay came across KSTF.
Among 33 other beginning high school teachers of biology, physical science and mathematics, Clay was selected for the highly competitive five-year program that invests $175,000 to each fellow to combat teacher turnover — a critical problem in education.
“We cannot improve science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education without recruiting and keeping excellent STEM teachers like Latoya in the profession,” Dr. Nicole Gillespie, KSTF’s director of Teaching Fellowships, said. “She joins a growing cadre of exceptional KSTF teachers whose knowledge, commitment and leadership are transforming math and science education from the inside.”
Janet H. and C. Harry Knowles established the KSTF in 1999 to increase the number of high-quality high school science and math teachers and to improve overall math and science education in the United States.
Taking part in professional and leadership development, learning new teaching methods and having a nationwide network of other teachers are things Clay will experience as a KSTF fellow.
“I’m excited about it. I’m excited about having this network of teachers there to help me get through times when I have low points. Knowing how to deal with it, reflect on it and talk with others who also have those problems openly without being judged, I’m excited,” Clay said.
Now living in North Carolina, Clay acknowledges that her interests in math and science came from her teachers at Frankford High School.
“I had great math teachers in high school. My math teacher pushed me, [but] I was lazy in high school. I was smart. I knew how to do all the work, but I didn’t care about the why behind math until I took calculus. AP calculus is a hard subject,” Clay said. “My teachers in high school, especially math, they’re one of the main reasons that I entered into a career in math.”
Even with having her first child at 17, Clay discussed how her teachers kept her motivated.
“My teachers didn’t let me slack off because of it. They still pushed me. It was great. Frankford was great,” Clay said.
As a former tutor at her neighborhood Boys and Girls Club, Clay said she found additional motivation and discovered a passion of teaching.
“The things that impacted my life, gave me a sense of community and always wanting to volunteer came from the Boys and Girls Club,” Clay said. “At school, teachers were great. They pushed me academically, but culturally having an awareness of myself as an African American and how I need to uplift my community came from going to the Boys and Girls Club.”
Using her high school experiences, Clay received a full scholarship to get her undergraduate degree from Clark Atlanta University. Then, she received a master of science from North Carolina State University and later completed two other master’s degree programs which were funded through scholarships.
“I’ve never paid for college ever. And I didn’t want to pay for college ever either,” Clay said. “So many people get scholarships. I always apply. And I tell [my students] I always get them. Gravitate to the people who get these awards and see what they do.”
As an educator, Clay also encourages students to become critical thinkers.
“I think the biggest thing in fostering a love of science and mathematics is making kids inquisitive — having them question why something is happening. Math and science is all about why. Why is this happening? What are the mechanics behind it? That’s what I try to foster,” Clay said.
Over the next five years, the KTSF will provide a community of support and tools for Clay to cultivate students’ interests in science and math. By using real life connections, she described her teaching style as relatable for students to see how important these subjects are in their lives.
“When I became a teacher, I always wanted to change lives and wanted to impact lives. That’s my passion. That’s what I love to do,” Clay said. “The biggest thing about [KTSF] is they want you to inquire about your teaching. They don’t want you to teach and just be okay with teaching. They’re constantly doing research and having you look at yourself to see if you’re being the best teacher you can possible be.”
Thinking long-term, Clay wants to create a community based educational center.
“My ultimate goal is to have a school of my own that’s like a community center. I could have good teachers who push the students academically. I could also have that community aspect. The students of the community can come and feel welcomed there and have a place to go after school,” Clay said.
Michael P. Kelly, administrative receiver of the Philadelphia Housing Authority, resigned Friday, which he said is due to family responsibilities.
“Franky, I’ve been thinking about this for a while,” Kelly told the Tribune Friday afternoon. “Believe me, it has nothing to do with politics, or with the public officials and the citizens of Philadelphia. Mayor Nutter has been very gracious, and I’ve had positive experiences with city council. I’m thankful for my time here in Philadelphia, and I’m grateful for the opportunity. The Tribune has been especially gracious and fair with us, and I really appreciate the support we’ve gotten from the community.”
Pressed on the reason for his resignation, Kelly said he won’t elaborate, but promises more information next week.
“It really was a personal, painful decision for family reasons,” he said. “I know that sounds like a typical politician’s line, but it happens to be true.”
Karen Newton-Cole of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development accepted Kelly’s resignation Friday during the monthly board meeting.
Additionally, HUD announced that Estelle Richman, a senior adviser to the HUD secretary, would replace Cole and return to her role as the one-person authority board commissioner and receiver. Richman served as the PHA board when HUD took control over the agency last year.
“It has been my pleasure to serve you as the commissioner of the Philadelphia Housing Authority,” Cole said.
Kelvin Jeremiah, PHA’s current director of audit and compliance, was appointed by Cole to be the provisional executive director of PHA. Janea Jordan will have Jeremiah’s position.
“We are going to launch a national search in terms of identifying an executive director,” Cole said.
While at the helm of PHA, Kelly was credited for many sweeping reforms. He re-established the Office of General Counsel — which manages PHA’s legal affairs, and he created the Office of Internal Audit and Compliance to ensure business transitions were compliant.
Kelly headed PHA’s Transition Plan — which aims to establish a culture of respect, accountability and transparency at the agency. A zero tolerance policy was instituted, and employees were held to new ethic policies and procedures.
Under Kelly, PHA reached a new contract agreement with Building and Construction Trades Council regarding workers pensions. He is also given credit to his ability to maintain focus and provide uninterrupted service at PHA during the Greene controversy.
In 2008, accusations of sexual harassment against PHA director Carl Greene surfaced. Greene was fired in September 2010 after the board of directors discovered that Greene used approximately $900,000 of federal funding for multiple harassment settlements.
Using his architecture, urban planning and 30-year housing authority experience from other cities like San Francisco, New Orleans and Washington, D.C., Kelly arrived to PHA in December of 2010 in the midst of the internal turmoil.
As the interim executive director, Kelly was on loan to PHA from the New York City Housing Authority, based on agreements that he serve both roles while maintaining duties as general manger of NYCHA. It wasn’t until August 2011 that Kelly was named permanent executive director at PHA.
HUD asked the five-member PHA board to quit, thus gaining control of the agency. Philadelphia City Council member Jannie Blackwell, Philadelphia AFL-CIO President Pat Eiding, Debra Brady, wife of U.S. Rep. Bob Brady (D., Pa.), tenant leader Nellie Reynolds, and former Philadelphia mayor John Street eventually stepped down from the board.
“Mr. Kelly came to PHA at a very difficult time and he immediately focused on getting back to basics in property management and resident services and making PHA accountable and transparent in business practices,” Richman said in a press release. “We will miss his energy and his ability to connect with the community.”
“I do love this work,” Kelly said. “I do love this housing authority. I do love the residents that I have been honored to serve. I love the colleagues that I had an honor to serve with.”
Take a look inside room 211 and see fourth-graders Judah Logan, Jasmine Greene and Amira Ellis. The three students have books opened and are engaged in reading assignments. But, reading isn’t the only activity keeping the students’ interests. At John Story Jenks, the extra-curricular activities are popular among students.
In her fourth year as principal, Mary Williams Lynskey said her goal is to always have activities at Jenks. To provide enrichment activities to students, Lynskey began a program called JAM — Jenks Arts and Music Program — for students in the fourth through eighth grades. In JAM, students learn to play various instruments like the xylophone and guitar.
“The whole message behind that is we try and engage kids in their talent and area of interest so that if they feel successful in that, then they will see school as a success and it will bleed over in their academics. Every kid should have another level of engagement outside of academics,” Lynskey said.
And another level of engagement comes from students’ involvement in clubs. Seventh-graders Aniyah Pinkey, Christine Dawson-Hanies, Tyler Godwin and Jaquann Henderson participate in student council, recycling club, yearbook, market place, safety patrol and choir.
In the market place club, students get the opportunity to sell healthy snacks to their peers.
Students also receive foreign language education. The third through eighth grades include Spanish, French, German and Mandarin. In sixth grade, students receive a Rosetta Stone license for independent study of one of the four languages. Parents are also invited to have a license at home for a family learning experience.
“We’re very proud of that,” Lynskey said. “We want to prepare them for the highest [ranked] high schools and [are] trying to get students to think like high school students.”
Other amenities at Jenks are the Wii Fitness Center and a rock-climbing wall.
Despite tight budgets of the district, Lynskey said she wants to maintain programming.
“Let’s give them the middle school experience because that’s something that they’re going to need to help alleviate any fears of high school — because they at least would have had a locker [and] going to different teachers with different expertise,” Lynskey said.
Eighth-grader Mikhaela Bass has been in the gifted program since sixth grade. With plans to attend Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA) High School for creative writing, Science Leadership Academy, Engineering and Science High School, Parkway North West or Constitution High School, Mikhaela said her most memorable experiences were field trips to Washington.
Similarly, eighth-grader Kai Jones enjoyed the tour of the White House. From her experiences in the career club for girls, Jones plans to study modeling or nursing after high school. With plans of attending Franklin Leadership Center, Science Leadership, Girls’ High or Motivation High School, Jones said she appreciates what she’s learned at Jenks.
“The teachers are really nice. They encourage us. They are motivating us to try harder,” Jones said.
Eighth-grader Amaia Bowman plans to take a different direction. With interests in singing and acting, Bowman said her most memorable experience was playing Miss Hannigan in the school musical “Annie.”
“At the end of the show, everybody stood up and gave me a big round of applause and I just remember going home that night and I was like, ‘Yes, yes, yes, I finally did it,’” Bowman said.
This year’s play was the “Wizard of Oz.” Bowman played the Wicked Witch of the West.
The actress wants to continue her talents in high school. She plans to attend CAPA, Girls’ High School, Parkway North West or Franklin Learning Center.
Didn’t make the musical, or participate in Art Day or Literacy Week? No worries. According to Lynskey, there are many opportunities for community involvement.
“Our whole calendar is based around events. One of our goals is to say, ‘something is always happening at Jenks.’ There’s a lot of nice moments,” Lynskey said.
Aaron D. Spears has a distinctive way of crafting analogies. Using descriptive metaphors, he has an ability to describe his life experiences in poetic verse. And with his extensive résumé of film and television roles, Spears’ acting career is grounded on a foundation of spoken-word.
He’s known as the suave Justin Barber on CBS’ “The Bold and The Beautiful,” which nominated him for the 2011 and 2012 NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Actor in a Daytime Drama.
Now, Spears has landed a role on BET’s new drama series “Being Mary Jane” starring Gabrielle Union. In the network’s first hour-long drama series, viewers follow a Black woman who’s a career-driven talk show host juggling family, social life and work life. Spears plays co-anchor, Mark Bradley.
“Cast and crew [were] very open, very down to earth. Gabrielle Union was a pleasant surprise,” Spears said. “She was not bourgeois. She was a regular girl, an average person at work. She was very warm and welcoming and mending herself to multiple options, not just stuck in one way doing or creating a character.”
Produced by husband and wife duo, Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil (“The Game,” “Jumping the Broom”), Spears described the couple’s working style as a joint effort of support.
“The director was cool,” he said. “Mara was very helpful in explaining any questions you may have. I like Salim in that he was open to suggestions, more of a collaborative effort as appose to directional effort.”
Spears admitted that while on set, he has learned a lot about himself as an actor. Balancing one television series takes hard work, but adding a second, Spears said will be a true endurance challenge.
“Some things that you ask for you’re not ready until you get that experience,” Spears said. “And that experience will either let it be known that yeah I am ready, or you will find out very quickly that you’re not.
“I compare this experience like double Dutch rope,” he added. “You’re getting your rhythm, you’re bouncing back and forth. You go to jump in the rope, but [if] you don’t catch that rhythm, that rope is going to sting your leg. That’s kind of how it is when you’re doing a drama because it’s long hours. A lot of shooting. A lot of waiting around. A lot of different takes. One, you have to maintain a level of testament, and two, making sure your interest don’t drop. When you’re off camera take that time to rest because at three AM you maybe doing a close up.”
Seen in films, “Babel,” “The Mannsfield 12” and “Blue Hill Avenue,” he has guest starred on television shows “NCIS,” “Castle,” “Boston Legal,” “Lincoln Heights,” “Bones” and “Criminal Minds.”
Aside from his full-time work in acting, Spears is passionate about his family. He credits his wife for providing support while he works.
“You got to have a strong person by your side. In terms of my wife and what she does, I always tell her like, ‘They couldn’t pay me to do your job. No. I’m good.’ You got to have a foundation. It’s a lot easier for me to go out and do my job because I have a foundation at the house.”
And the foundation that launched his acting career, stemmed from his experiences as a spoken-word poet.
“Spoken word was something very interesting,” Spears said. “Spoken word just kept following me.”
When he wrote a poem and got approval from family and friends, Spears said he realized he had a flair for poetry. After he moved from New York to California, he embarked on a journey — which yielded more opportunities for the actor.
“There was a poetry scene and that was my outlet of continuing to be in the spotlight. It kept me driven,” he said. “It kept me open. I kept writing and I kept performing at various clubs around the city. It kind of lent itself to me and I never was closed to it. Different energy [than acting], but still a creative vice to express. And ‘til this day, I still do spoken word.”
In 1997, Spears established his own company, HENNA Inc., which has introduced a new perspective of spoken-word poetry and a renaissance of film making in Hollywood.
Spears, a Washington, D.C., native, has additional talents as a former football player, artist and dabbles in singing, as well. Yet, he gave praise to Philadelphia for providing him his first experiences in the entertainment industry.
“I have a lot of ties to Philly,” Spears said. “Philly was one of the first places when I was jumping off the map trying to do my thing. I did a lot of modeling and auditioning in Philly. Philly always has that closeness to my heart. If it wasn’t for Philly, I don’t even know if I would have lasted in New York.”
As a previous Penn Relays participant, attendant of the annual Greek Picnic in Philadelphia and a fan of The Roots and Jill Scott, Spears jokingly said he wants to come back for a “fish cheese steak” sandwich. Just skip the beef because he’s no longer eating red meat.
Graduation is a milestone. And with one week away from embarking on a journey of new experiences, life changes and countless opportunities, several students in the Class of 2012 have more to celebrate.
The Philadelphia Tribune and Wells Fargo Student Achievers Reception recognized 66 high school seniors — who have made academic accomplishments while under challenging circumstances — on June 6 at the Union League of Philadelphia.
The Tribune’s president and CEO, Robert W. Bogle, greeted the students and their families and gave a congratulatory message.
“Today we honor students who have displayed an unwavered commitment to academic excellence,” he said. “Despite a number of challenges and obstacles, our student honorees, have managed in a very meaningful way to achieve something that will be important for many of your tomorrows. And that is the first step towards this journey called success.”
Bogle also recognized Constance E. Clayton for attending the event. She is the first woman and first African-American superintendent of schools in Philadelphia.
Aldustus (A.J.) Jordan, vice president of community affairs manager of Wells Fargo was the master of ceremonies, and Rev. Tamieka N. Moore of Tenth Memorial Baptist Church gave the invocation.
Thomas Knudsen, acting superintendent and chief recovery officer of the School District of Philadelphia and Pedro A. Ramos, Esq., chairman of the School Reform Commission gave remarks.
“Each and every one of you graduates has marshaled his or her resources and accomplished something real and meaningful that will be with you for all the days of your lives,” he said. “And you have done so in the face of personal challenges that would have held others back. That makes you true heroes.”
“Commit to being an aggressively life long learner,” Ramos said. “Everyday for the rest of your life seek out new knowledge and better understanding of different cultures and different ideas.”
The keynote speaker, Kevin R. Johnson, senior pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church offered words of encouragement to the students. While sharing the story of his life growing up, Johnson used an analogy of chickens and eagles. He challenged the students not to act as their peers and be timid, but be rare individuals who aren’t afraid to achieve success.
“Maybe you have gone through the struggles and challenges in your own life just so you can begin to fly,” Johnson said. “It’s now time for you to launch. And as you get ready to launch, I want you to know, don’t forget this moment when you heard someone tell you to not become a chicken, but to dare to become an eagle.”
Mayor Michael Nutter and Wells Fargo Regional President Vincent Liuzzi, were also in attendance. Liuzzi presented a $25,000 check to the City of Philadelphia Office of Education’s organization PhillyGoes2College, which helps Philadelphians of all ages earn a college degree.
Among the awardees at the reception was high school senior, Christopher Miller of Carver Engineering and Sciences High School. Miller said he was honored to be recognized.
“I’m proud of myself. I had no idea what is was at first, and then my mom told me and a couple kids from school told me,” Miller said. “It means a lot.”
This fall, Miller will attend Morehouse College. After receiving his bachelor’s degree in history, he plans to attend law school at the University of Pennsylvania.
Within his four years of school, Miller has lost both his maternal and paternal grandfathers to cancer. Despite this emotional burden, Leah Tate, Miller’s mother said that she is proud of his accomplishments and knew that he had the ability to push through.
“He was never the kid to stand outside,” Tate said. “He always went to school and home. Everybody knew that Chris is the scholar. I’m extremely proud. Christopher is extraordinary in many ways. He’s going to Morehouse College and he did everything on his own.”
She also encourages other parents with children entering high school in the fall.
“Besides starting to make sure that they stay active, but give a little,” Tate said. “Let them go out and experience things. Don’t be scared. I didn’t achieve it for myself, but I wasn’t scared for my son.”