Story by Roselle Tenorio. Photos by Mary Martin.
As Executive Director of Education Open Doors, Jayda Batchelder brings her own experience, passion, and motivation to create an innovative college & career readiness program for middle school students. From her focus to serving low-income and students of color, to her innovative approach of delivering information sooner in middle school, Jayda is working to support teachers and their students on their college & career pathways.
Born and raised in Rapid City, South Dakota, Jayda was the first in her family to attend college. While her parents encouraged her to go to college, the family did not fully understand the steps it would take to get there. As a result, Jayda shares that “college was more of a word,” an idea, a concept something she needed to reach but without a pathway. She admits to not having the understanding of what the differences were between state colleges, private colleges, ivy leagues, or community colleges. Like many other students, she did not have someone to teach her about all things college so she felt overwhelmed when it came to knowing how to decide. Jayda ended up choosing based off of mailers and a college visit to Tulane in New Orleans. While her parents thought Tulane would be too far, expensive, and out of reach, Jayda received an academic scholarship that made Tulane accessible.
Living in New Orleans post-Katrina, the hurricane which hit her freshman year of college in 2005, magnified long standing inequities that exist in the city, pushing them even further into the public consciousness. As a result, she switched her major to psychology and public health for its foundation in prevention; it led her to ask questions like “How do we, societally, prevent pervasive issues that exist?” Jayda continued to see that access to education was a critical component. When you know better you end up doing better especially if you have access to quality education, opportunities, and resources. As Jayda was nearing graduation, reflecting on her internship with the United Nations in Geneva, her plans to pursue her masters in Public Health, and dreaming about the places she would travel and the people she would impact while working overseas for an NGO, she paused to ask herself, “Why do I have all these opportunities?” Jayda realized clearly it was, “because I had access to a great education; that realization that education opened so many doors for me” including the opportunity to live and work internationally motivated Jayda to want to give back in a meaningful way to the education system that raised her. Jayda selflessly pivoted from public health and in 2009, she joined Teach for America (TFA).
Jayda, enthusiastic about giving back through teaching, began in the charter year for TFA in Dallas where she taught 8th grade science at Stockard Middle School in the heart of Oak Cliff. For students in Texas, 8th grade is an important testing year where the TAKS, now STAAR testing is administered. Her students excelled on the test and in school winning her accolades for Alternative Certified (AC) Teacher of the year at the local, state, and national level. However, Jayda questioned her impact when she visited the high school that her students were entering after they left her classroom. She realized her top students were enrolled in courses that did not match their knowledge and skills and on top of that her students did not realize that they were making choices that were going to have an impact on their future. Jayda jumped to action reaching out to other TFA teachers to see if they would pool their resources to teach more than just the curriculum by adding topics like college, finances, jobs—a roadmap to life. Nine middle school teachers compiled resources, turning it into a book to teach alongside their classroom content. The parents were so grateful for this resource because they cared deeply for their children but often did not have access to the resources and information their children needed.
Jayda won the Texas Instruments Science Teacher of the Year award in 2012, granting her a $5,000 cash prize. She could not stop thinking about all the other students with untapped, limitless potential, sparking in Jayda the drive to launch an organization that could scale the positive impact that her and her fellow TFA teachers were seeing in their classrooms. Jayda points out that she was, “just naive and passionate enough to decide that she would quit her job and launch Education Open Doors.” Her entrepreneurial and brave spirit, which she attributes to her father and grandfather who started equine businesses from nothing in South Dakota, carried her on her journey to start and build Education Open Doors. The goal was to create a program that would partner with schools and train their teachers so that they would have a tool for their students. Jayda emphasizes her experience as a teacher has built empathy for other teachers, who want earnestly to help but do not know how. She says Education Open Doors, “is by teachers for teachers. We understand that teachers are under-resourced and underpaid and we want to support them with our curriculum.” Now, Education Open Doors works successfully alongside schools and communities to solve a college & career readiness challenge. She attributes her and the organization’s success to the timing of Dallas Independent School District’s renewed commitment to quality education for all students and the supportive nature of Dallas and its philanthropists who were willing to take a risk on a new idea and catch Jayda and others working to make Dallas better.
If you would like to get involved with Education Open Doors there are many ways outside of the obvious first step, which is making a financial contribution. As the Executive Director, Jayda wants everyone to know that the cost of their program is affordable at an average of $100 per student per year. In order to prevent charging schools the full cost of the program and having budget constraints be the barrier to impact, the organization depends on the generosity of community members to subsidize the cost. Jayda actually points to advocates and other “door openers” who have taken a chance on their innovative middle school intervention model and the Education Open Doors program. The organization faces many challenges in regards to establishing legitimacy without a national partner, sustainability as a growing nonprofit, and the difficulty in measuring for an impact many years removed from the program delivery date of college and career, but her door-opener advocates understand the importance of a middle school intervention despite its later pay-off date. For example, students are making life-changing choices as 8th graders about what high school they want to go to, what endorsement (which is similar to a major selection in college) they want to explore, and even the course selection. These decisions often set them on a certain learning pathway. Jayda and others are working to make sure “the forgotten middle” is recognized for its true potential to affect change in students’ lives.
Jayda encourages community members and parents to ask teachers, principals, school board members, and district leadership if the Education Open Doors program is being implemented in their local middle school whether it is public, private, or charter. In addition, she suggests every advocate ask to be included in career day programming at your local school. “How can you find pathways into a school and share your own journey so that students can see themselves in a role that you have and understand their true potential?” Jayda asks. She truly makes volunteers feel like they have the power to make a difference, even if it is only in one student’s life. Education Open Doors always welcomes extra hands and especially volunteers willing to share their knowledge and expertise.
Jayda has built a true love for Dallas and the community and while she thought she would only be here for two years with TFA, it is now eleven years later. Over her journey in North Texas she became a teacher, bought a house, and started a nonprofit. We can thank her students for sparking her passion and keeping her here in the Dallas community. Jayda often incorporates visits to their partner schools to keep her proximate to the work happening so that her motivation and passion stays alive through the students. Jayda and the organization have a commitment to equity so that all students can see themselves in the program. After partnering with a consultant and working through an equity protocol, Jayda was challenged but saw big improvements in program accessibility. Now, she is proud to say that “Education Opens Doors is for all students.”
You may be surprised to know that Jayda grew up as a rodeo cowgirl and when she visits her family home in South Dakota, Jayda spends her free time riding horses. She has a true love of animals and has joined the Dallas Zoo board to participate with the education and conservation committee, bringing her love for animals together with her passion for education. Jayda also has not forgotten her public health background as she has been recognized with a Community First Award from Parkland and participated in the program series that teaches more about our community’s public health needs and Parkland’s role in meeting them. It is her commitment to students inside and outside of the classroom that motivates all of Jayda’s work, not her list of accolades, but the practical ways in which she is able to impact students’ lives.
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