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Building Bosses in Diverse Communities

Kiwonda Riley is an Academic Coach for educators at Mercer Middle School in Savannah, Georgia, where she spends her days helping with instruction and delivery, building curriculum, identifying weaknesses, and coaching teachers to be stronger and more effective in their classrooms. She was named Savannah-Chatham County Public Schools Teacher of the Year for 2018-2019, celebrating her six years of work as a high school teacher. Kiwonda is also a mother, always looking for the best academic opportunities for her daughter both in the classroom and out of school time.

In 2018, Kiwonda enrolled her daughter at Horizons Savannah, a summer program serving over 200 K-8 grade students from multiple schools across Chatham County, Georgia. Kiwonda was impressed by the academic components of the Horizons program and was invited to lead the implementation of Read to Lead, an adaptive, engaging digital game that helps students develop life, literacy and career skills through immersive blended learning.

As a Black teacher in a predominately Black school district, Kiwonda immediately noticed the diversity of the characters in the Read to Lead games. “A lot of the software and programs we have in place are limited in representation for diverse students,” said Kiwonda. “As a mom and an educator, it’s really cool to see the diversity. It has a positive impact on the kids to see people who look like them in positions of leadership.”

After exploring Read to Lead, Kiwonda saw an opportunity for the students in her summer program to gain valuable, real-world experiences. She created a program for the students to learn what it takes to be a boss, combining Read to Lead with hands-on learning activities centered on the workplace. Kiwonda took a human resources approach, setting up a grading system based on real life career paths. Students were incentivized to become the CEO by scoring over 90% on their assignments. The response was incredible. Students were engaged by the games and at the same time learned about the importance of cultural responsibility, how to respect other backgrounds and communicate effectively without emotions getting in the way — in the same way leaders must respond in a workplace.

“My Horizons students were asking questions about how businesses work, and what it takes to be a boss. On top of improving their reading comprehension, Read to Lead taught them the skills they need to be effective leaders,” said Kiwonda. “They loved the interactivity of the game, and I loved that the questions are aligned with standards. The Read to Lead games are immersive, real-world workplace environments where students are challenged to make important decisions, preparing them for life outside of their classrooms.

When she transitioned into her new role as an Academic Coach at Mercer Middle School, Kiwonda wanted to bring Read to Lead to Mercer’s afterschool program. The differentiated instruction made it possible to teach with Read to Lead in inclusive classrooms, where Kiwonda has students working on different levels. At Mercer, diverse representation matters. “We’re not just trying to challenge our students and build rigor, we’re trying to change their mentality,” added Kiwonda. “The Read to Lead characters are relatable, which makes it easier for my students to engage with the games and identify with what they are learning.”

Through Read to Lead, students have access to knowledge they weren’t getting anywhere else. Read to Lead’s research-based approach to programming directly improves reading skills, critical-thinking and engagement by immersing students in authentic career environment and building their capacity for social and emotional learning. Students often don’t recognize what it takes to be a boss, and Read to Lead taught them how to communicate in different ways, to work together, understand organization and workplace structure, and ultimately make a plan for their path to being a boss, all while mastering reading.

Kiwonda is an example of a stellar educator who has connected the need for her students to have access to real-world workplace examples with an academic experience that builds literacy. At Classroom, Inc., we’re excited to see how Kiwonda’s afterschool students learn how to be a boss. Stay tuned for part two of this teacher spotlight in 2019!

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Classroom, Inc. is able to bring Read to Lead to Horizons Savannah and other afterschool programs across the country thanks to the leadership support of The New York Life Foundation and others generous donors. You can join them in supporting this work by visiting www.classroominc.org/donate-now.