Interview and photos by Jan Osborn.
This spring United to Learn (U2L), a Dallas-based nonprofit that partners with Dallas ISD elementary schools to accelerate student achievement and grow purposeful leaders, is hosting its fifth annual citywide Community Campus Day event. The first of five weekends of its annual Community Campus Day event kicked off on February 26. The next Community Campus Day will be held Saturday, April 2.
During these five Saturday events, United to Learn will mobilize community volunteers from companies, schools, and other organizations to improve campus cultures across 45 elementary schools. The remaining events will occur on April 9 and April 23.
One of the participating schools is Frederick Douglass Elementary School. Dallas Doing Good interviewed its Principal Shawki Freelon to learn more about his journey in education and the impact of United to Learn’s Community Campus Day.
Would you share your story of why you decided to get into education? And, what inspires you to continue your journey?
The desire to be an educator started early for me. My parents were service oriented and often helped our relatives that needed assistance. I played sports growing up and always had a great appreciation for the coaches who dedicated their time to work with me and other children. I also had a great respect for the educators who communicated through their words and actions that they believed in me. Through these early experiences, it became my goal to be able to positively impact others. I decided to major in special education when I entered college at Jackson State University. I had a desire to work with and help children who need the most support. Seeing my students excited about what they are learning while developing the skills they will need to be successful in life is what motivates me to continue my journey in the field of education.
What was your catalyst for becoming a Principal? Is there a specific story or event that propelled you to want to become a Principal?
As a special education teacher, I was able to witness firsthand students outperform their labels when they have people who truly care and believe in them. As a teacher I would advocate for my students to be included in campus events and field trips. I remember a day when a general education teacher at my school decided she wasn’t going to take several students who had special needs. I spoke to my principal at the time and communicated why I believed these students should be included. The students were able to go on the field trip and appreciated the experience. From that moment I realized how important it was to speak up for and be a champion for our students who need the most help. This moment sparked a desire to do more outside of my classroom and I was given leadership opportunities such as being on our campus leadership team and attending principal meetings for my principal. I later went on to earn my master’s degree from Concordia University in Education Leadership, worked for Dallas ISD Special Education Department as a behavior specialist, assistant principal, and eventually principal.
Tell us about United to Learn’s Community Campus Day project and how this project and this day impact your learning community?
We are truly appreciative of the support United to Learn has provided to our campus. Our Community Campus Day project is going to be an awesome experience for our students, staff, and community. Our project will be a mural painted on a wall in our main hallway. It will include our mascot which is a Dolphin along with our school logo that represents the different houses we have on campus. We have House of Pride, House of Excellence, House of Leadership, and House of Scholarship. All our scholars are part of one of these houses and will be extremely excited to see this mural when they enter our building.
Why do you feel like organizations like United to Learn are important for our local schools?
Organizations like United to Learn are important to our local schools because they can provide the additional support and resources that are needed but might not be available in our current budgets. We have been fortunate to receive books, backpacks, school supplies, social emotional learning resources, professional development, belts, powered speakers, microphones, and more. It is great to have organizations like United to Learn in our schools to let our scholars, teachers, and staff know that there are people in our area who believe in our scholars and will help us to succeed.
What is your vision for Frederick Douglass Elementary School five years from today?
My vision is that we continue to transform the hearts and minds of every student who attends Frederick Douglass while developing them to be leaders. I want 100% of my scholars reading on or above grade level. I want the education that our scholars receive from our campus to positively impact their families and community. I want our school to be at the top in our district and the United States.
For more information about United to Learn, go to unitedtolearn.org.