Story by Jan Osborn. Photos by Jan Osborn.
United to Learn (U2L), a Dallas-based nonprofit that partners with Dallas ISD elementary schools to accelerate student achievement and grow purposeful leaders, is helping 49 Dallas ISD elementary schools gear up for the new school year by fulfilling teachers’ supply requests through their annual Learning Launch program. The program, which is Dallas’ only back-to-school supply drive that provides schools with teacher-requested learning resources and tools, alleviates the financial and time burden of teachers and administrators who typically spend an average of $600 of their own money annually! Learning Launch equips Dallas elementary schools and classrooms for the first day of school and beyond.
Two of the schools that will receive support from United to Learn are Arlington Park Early Childhood Center and Joseph J. Rhoads Learning Center. We spoke with the principal of both schools, Principal Chaundra Macklin about her journey and education and how United to Learn helps support her vision for her school.
Would you share your story of why you decided to get into education? And, what inspires you to continue your journey?
I made the decision to become an educator when I was 12 years old. My father was in the military, and we lived in Panama. I was on a bus and saw children playing. The sight, the sounds and the smell: They were living in makeshift housing on top of a garbage dump. I thought, “Children should not have to live like that.” From that day, I made a commitment that I wanted to do something to better the lives of children.
I was a childcare worker, head start teacher and paraprofessional. I became a teacher because I knew I could impact the lives of children by helping them develop to have better lives and be the best they can be. It is not just about who these children are today; but what they will become tomorrow. I teach them to think about tomorrow.
I have taught Kindergarten, first and second grade reading, third, fourth, fifth and sixth grades. At the time, I did not realize that the experience in each of these grade levels would prepare me to become a principal.
Prior to becoming an administrator, I was the grade level chair for kindergarten at my school. I had 163 children in my hallway, and I took a lot of pride in my hallway. Those students and those teachers were my people. I told the principal, “Don’t worry about my hallway — I have it!”
What was your catalyst for becoming a Principal? Is there a specific story or event that propelled you to want to become a Principal?
Being a leader requires responsibility and accountability. I really valued being in a position of leadership as a grade level chair. When I realized the impact I could make on a group of kids in my classroom, then the impact as a grade level chair, I realized I could make an even larger impact as a principal.
And, if I can impact a school, I can impact a community.
My former students and parents keep me motivated and propel me to continue this journey. One story that really encouraged me is when I was at a garage sale. I saw an F-150 screech into a parking space and one of my former students jumped out and yelled. “Ms. Macklin, you need to come back and take care of our kids!” My kids that now have kids come back to visit and continue to live by the lessons I instilled in them. It is really powerful.
We develop leaders. That is what we do. From students to teachers, we develop each person to be the best version of themselves. This starts in kindergarten… well, now PreK. From the line leader to the caboose, we are teaching leadership. Everything you needed to know, you did learn in kindergarten!
I love helping people “see” what they want to be in the future by providing the tools they need to succeed. From teachers to students, I like to say, “When you leave me, you must be better than when you came to me and be better than me.”
As of today, I had a whole grade level that is now serving in leadership as principals and assistant principals at other schools. I knew this was going to happen when these teachers were on the grade level together.
It is important to me to empower teachers. Our teachers are the “boots on the ground” and I work to make sure they have everything they need to feel confident in the work they do.
Tell us about your United to Learn Learning Launch project and how this project impacts your learning community?
I can’t stop talking about the things that happen because of the work and impact of United to Learn. They are a true “God-send.”
My schools are in communities where we could greatly benefit from extra support and United to Learn came along and provided support for both my schools. I partnered with United to Learn before and when I became principal of my second school, United to Learn said they would support us there, too!
For our Learning Launch projects United to Learn created a wonderful safe place where children can self-regulate. It is a comfy place to sit with all kinds of items to touch and play with. We can talk with students about their feelings and support them as they become calm. United to Learn helped to assemble our safe spaces in the classrooms.
Also, Grandparents’ Day is a big deal and many children in our community are being raised by grandparents. United to Learn is providing supplies to help honor our beloved elders. It is so important to understand authority, dignity and respect. I want my kids to treat all people with dignity and respect and I expect it.
We are also hosting a petting zoo! The petting zoo will come at the beginning of the school year in September. This gives our kids access to animals they might not have seen up close. It’s a wonderful, exciting experience for our kids.
In addition to the Learning Launch project, United to Learn helped us with our mural. This was a big deal for our kids. We wanted a mural that showed school as a fun and happy place. Kids see kids having fun and smiling as they “walk to school”. It creates a positive environment.
This past year at Rhoads, United to Learn had incredible volunteers (one came on her birthday and brought her friends!) to redesign the teachers’ lounge. It is such a nice and relaxing place for teachers. They have a massage chair, TV, coffee bar, coffee cart, palm planters and soothing lighting. It shows our teachers that someone cares. Do you care? That is what people want to know in everything they do. People don’t care how much you know; they want to know how much you care.
Why do you feel organizations like United to Learn are important for our local schools?
It is all about collaboration and partnership. U2L understands that it takes everyone- not just the parents and the school.
United to Learn gives me the precious gift of time by executing these projects: the fundraising, the planning, the organization, the volunteers. Now, I am able to do things that I wouldn’t have dreamed of before. I know that if I need them, I can always count on them. They never tell me “No”.
Not only that, they think of us often! For example, right now, I have a basket on my desk that has prizes for teachers from U2L. They care about our teachers too. It is so nice that I get to recognize my teachers and give them a little boost all because United to Learn wanted to show they care.
If I need something, I know they are going to be there for me. I love that their approach looks at the entire school system: the community, school stakeholders, students, families and of course, the teachers.
You really see them in action. They are committed to our success. You see the volunteers painting, opening boxes, assembling items, presenting workshops, decorating, playing with the kids for after school field day, always smiling, always supporting. They have accomplished so much and continue to ask, “How else can I help?” United to Learn is always there when you need them.
What is your vision for your Elementary School five years from today?
We want to be the exemplar of excellence in early childhood education.
We want the leadership, academics and character of each student developed so that when they leave us for kindergarten, they actually have an idea of who they are and what they want to be as they become adults.
I believe that when we are little, we know what we want to do. Rhoads has a STEAM focus and Arlington Park an exploratory STEAM focus – two academies where our goal is to expose our students to many different experiences. As I like to say, Learning, Growing and Leading from PreK to P-Tech!
Ultimately, I want all the kindergarten teachers in our communities to say, “Please, give me the kids from Rhoads and Arlington Park!”
For more information about United to Learn, go to unitedtolearn.org.