Editor’s Note: Kristina Pham, one of our talented special education teachers, started an after-school Leadership Academy this year for some of her fourth and fifth grade students at Los Sueńos. Now, she is a top ten finalist for the Symantec Innovation in Teaching Awards. We asked Kristina to share a little about why she started the Academy and — most importantly — how its impacted her students.
To our Students: the Leaders of Today & Tomorrow.
Our children are very much “tomorrow’s leaders”; everyday, they are learning what it means to be a Rocketeer with core values of responsibility, empathy, respect and persistence. Students use these core values, coupled with their education, in order to one day shape their communities, cities and world for the better. But our children are much more than what they will do — they are the living dualities of leadership for today and tomorrow.
Today, our students can be the leaders of their own education. Imagine a child who can enter a school and know exactly what they need to be successful in the classroom. Whether it is a specific accommodation or an effective means of collaboration, our students need the skills to advocate for themselves.
I created Leadership Academy, an after-school program targeted toward 4th and 5th grade students, to build upon these skills of self-advocacy. Every week, students explored a quality of leadership — collaboration, flexibility, commitment, and communication — and used these four qualities to shape their activities for the program. The leadership perspective provided by these students was nothing short of spectacular; when delving into communication, one fifth grader, Ruth, shared that, “Communication goes beyond just talking. You have to be able to listen in order to communicate, too.”
To learn of the positive results of these various leadership qualities, students chose a specific leader from history that they were able to research throughout the seven weeks. Leaders like Nelson Mandela, Jane Goodall and Cathy Freeman provided real-world examples of the influence leaders can have on their communities. At the end of our program, students presented their historical leaders to the staff of Rocketship Los Sueños. When asked how he felt presenting his leader, fourth grade student Fabian exclaimed, “I felt nervous, but really proud. All those times I worked on my project, I finally finished it and could share with my teachers what I learned.”
Twenty-two historical leaders, seven weeks, six projects and four qualities of leadership later, what does it actually mean to be a leader? The Leadership Academy students can tell you:
“A good leader means to know how to work together, how to communicate with each other, and how to be committed to things you promise you’ll do.” – Adrian, fourth grade
“A leader is someone who shows great responsibility for others. Since I learned about communication, collaboration, flexibility, and commitment, those qualities have made me help others, be more responsible, and stay respectful to everyone around me. It’s my role to do good for myself and for others.” – Ximena, fourth grade
Here’s to our students, the leaders of today and tomorrow.
Kristina Pham is an Integrated Special Education (ISE) teacher at Rocketship Los Sueños Academy. She grew up in San Jose and is a 2012 graduate of UC San Diego, where she earned her BA in philosophy and political science. When Kristina is not teaching, she spends her free time hiking, exploring the culinary offerings of the Bay Area and cheering for her beloved San Jose Sharks.