Story and 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, helped 50 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.
One of the elementary schools that received support from United to Learn is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Learning Center. We spoke with the school’s principal, Principal Romikianta Sneed about her journey in 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?
My fifth grade teacher, Ms. Jessica Johnson, in New Orleans, Louisiana, made a profound impact on my desire to become an educator. I loved and adored Ms. Johnson, and she took a keen interest in me as well. She set high standards and expectations for me, which was really meaningful.
Where I grew up, they called us “project kids.” There was quite a bit of turnover in our schools when I was growing up, but I was in kindergarten when I first noticed Ms. Johnson. What really stood out to me is that she stayed and was committed to the school – committed to us as students and to our community.
In fact, when I became a teacher she was still a teacher. She continues to inspire me. Just like Ms. Johnson, I wanted to help kids like me. I moved out of the housing projects when I was 10, and I didn’t see any other way out of my situation besides education. In order to survive, I knew I had to get a good education to support my family and myself.
What was your catalyst for becoming a Principal? Is there a specific story or event that propelled you to want to become a Principal?
It wasn’t any particular story or person that led me to become a principal. I really truly thought I’d always be a classroom teacher that served kids like myself. But, when you serve in the schools that I serve in, the types of schools that United to Learn serves, you attend a lot of funerals. Funerals for students and young kids that shouldn’t be in that position. I wanted to create different outcomes.
And with becoming a principal, I knew my reach could become a little bit greater. I was able to impact not just students but teachers as well, which in turn impacts the students and the community.
Since we had a lot of teacher turnover as a kid, I know how important it is to support the teachers. As a principal I can serve my adults and support our teachers so we can ultimately support our students. I am constantly thinking about how I can help take things off their platter (not just their plate!) and support them in social emotional learning as well.
Tell us about your United to Learn Learning Launch project and how this and other U2L project impacts your learning community.
This year for Learning Launch, United to Learn provided materials for our Fall Honors awards as well as teacher appreciation tools.
One of the big projects that United to Learn has helped us with is creating an inspirational environment for our students. The day we completed the project, we had the community, our trustee, our teachers, and our parents help us, making it a community event. All throughout the building, we have encouraging and inspirational quotes on the walls. United to Learn volunteers transformed our white spaces into stimulating and creative spaces. When our environment looks really good, it makes the students feel good about themselves.
One of the quotes was from Nelson Mandela, and our scholars noticed that it was also a line from a rap song. Our scholars aren’t just reading the quotes. They are making connections! It was an opportunity for us to showcase that the art of rap is inspired by reading and knowledge. Education and reading helped these rappers and artists.
Why do you feel organizations like United to Learn are important for our local schools?
United to Learn and organizations like it, show all the adults in the building that it isn’t just people in education that care about them—it’s the entire community. The projects, big or small, show our educators and our scholars they are supported. For example, United to Learn supplied me with a basket full of pack of gums, fidget spinners, and other prizes that teachers could put in their treasure chests for kids. This is a significant impact, as these teachers would have paid out of their own pocket for these items in the past.
In addition, a while back both of our microwaves went out in both teachers’ lounges. And I was able to call U2L and the next day we got sent two microwaves! It shows that there are people (outside these walls) that care, know, and understand.
United to Learn shows our schools that there are people that love and care about public education and want to put money back into the community.
What is your vision for your Elementary School five years from today?
My vision is that MLK will be one of the beacons of South Dallas. My goal is that our schools will be the reason that some people will want to move to Dallas and especially South Dallas. We will excel in core subjects like math and science. We want all of our scholars to have access to extracurricular arts and sports programming. We have the best teachers and best scholars. Through our arts opportunities and partnerships we will be recognized beyond Dallas for our innovative programs. My aim is that MLK and Booker T students have the same life-changing, game-changing experience.
For more information about United to Learn, go to unitedtolearn.org.