Book Review by Carol Hoffman
A story about American education and one principal’s fight to change the world
In America, the state of education for children of color living in disadvantaged communities is extremely poor and the educational consequences are very severe.
Nadia Lopez – author of The Bridge to Brilliance: How One Woman and One Community Are Inspiring the World – grew up in Brooklyn, NY in an area called Brownsville, where 40% of the population lived below the poverty level. She had a vision to open up a new school in the neighborhood because she wanted to make a difference for the children in that area.
From the beginning, it was an uphill battle with the Department of Education (DOE) to get the school started. The DOE did not have enough money to pay a Guidance Counselor or an Assistant Principal, so Nadia became both, along with being the Principal. Her next problem was getting teachers to come to the area and grow with the school.
Nadia named her school “Mott Hall Bridges Academy.” Mott Hall would be the bridge from the past (the place the students came from), to the future (a place full of potential).
Nadia and the teachers developed a motto, “Committed to Succeed,” and a pledge that the children said each day. They picked school colors – purple for the girls and black for the boys. She felt the whole point of the school was to give the children a choice and bring some stability to their everyday lives.
There were 45 students and 6 teachers when Mott Hall opened.
Mott Hall was sent the children that other schools did not want because they had the worst behavior problems. Being a mentor and educator, Lopez emphasizes that you need to understand why a student is misbehaving. After three months, she learned she needed to find out what the students were good at and then built on their abilities. She figured out the most effective way to change a child’s behavior was by talking to the students, and once they knew she was interested in them, their behavior and management issues dwindled.
The inspiration behind Mott Hall was to help children find their self-worth, teach them that they mattered, and expand their horizons. One instance that comes to mind from the book was Nadia had the children write letters to a neighborhood felon who was incarcerated for armed robbery. When he was released from jail, he visited the school and eventually started an afterschool athletic program for boys, which was a great success.
After five years, there were 194 students and 15 teachers at Mott Hall. At this time a book was written about the school describing it as, “A safe zone in a crime-plagued neighborhood, a gateway out of generational poverty for those born with few advantages in life.”
As Lopez states, “Principals and teachers don’t just prepare children for school, we prepare children for life.”
In my work at the Knott Foundation, we see many people in the nonprofit world like Ms. Lopez, who are extremely caring and giving of themselves, while working tirelessly to better the lives of children and others. I am grateful for those people and for my nonprofit colleague, Van Brooks, Founder & Executive Director of the SAFE Center in West Baltimore, who recommended this book to me.