Dr. Nadia Lopez on College and Career Readiness

How Dr. Lopez Made Higher Education a Reality for Deserving Young Learners

When I was an assistant principal at a K-8 school in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn many years ago, I recall talking to a group of students about their future aspiration to attend college. Many of them looked at me perplexed and the comment that stood out from our conversation came from Danté who said, “We are not going to college, kids like us from Brownsville don’t go there.” It broke my heart that there were children who could not see themselves beyond their community or belonging on a college campus. Rather than remain disheartened, when Vassar College presented the opportunity for twenty-five students to participate in a school visit, I gladly accepted what I believed would be a life changing experience.

The two and a half hour drive to Poughkeepsie, New York proved to be a turning point for many of the young people who had attended. Once at the college campus, the eyes of the children widened as they passed through the grassy knolls, toured the library and dorms, and entered a lecturing hall with the English Professor Kiese Laymon, who wore a tweed suit jacket with Nike sneakers and had a gift to relate to each student. In less than an hour, Professor Laymon had engaged these young people in a writing assignment that many of his incoming freshmen would have to complete on their first day of class. Not only did this exercise dispel the myth that these young people could not do well in a college class, but it also allowed them to learn that despite living in poverty, they would be eligible for a full scholarship if they met the criteria for admissions.

All it took was one day to expose children to their possibilities that ultimately resulted in 24 of the 25 students attending colleges throughout the East Coast. When I had the opportunity to open Mott Hall Bridges Academy, a STEAM focused middle school, in the same community I understood that “college and career readiness” did not just mean the development of academic skills within the classroom. It was about creating opportunities for my scholars to see their possibilities and break the glass-ceiling of limitations that exists in a community like Brownsville where only 32% of residents actually graduate with a high school diploma and 14% earn a college degree.

If I wanted my scholars to truly understand what it meant to be college and career ready, I would have to do the following:

Schedule College Field-Trips — Our scholars from 6–8th grade attend an annual college field trip that expose plant their feet on the ground of various colleges that include Historically Black Colleges and Universities, State and City of New York Universities, private schools, as well as IVY Leagues such as Harvard and Yale. The visits offer the scholar an opportunity to visit classes, world engagement is priceless and has a long lasting impression that can never be substituted.

Watch the scholars of Mott Hall Bridges Academy explore Harvard University:

MHBA College Fair — We host an annual college fair for the community of Brownsville that includes colleges and universities from throughout the United States. Admissions officers are available to offer insight to the application process, financial aid, course offerings, campus life, as well as the requirements for consideration of selection.

MHBA College Week — This annual tradition includes a celebration of college spirit exhibited by all of our staff members who wear school paraphernalia, participate in panel discussions and share stories about their personal experience in higher education.

Digital Day and STEAM Awareness — To best prepare our scholars for future careers in STEAM we dedicate specific days when guest speakers are invited to share their professional and personal journey into their careers. We partner with individuals and corporations that allow our scholars to visit their institutions and get hands on experiences in the workplace.

Overall, we must plant our children’s feet in the places they belong and expose them to their future possibilities. Education has the power to open up doors and breakdown limitations imposed by lack of opportunities.

Founding Principal of Mott Hall Bridges Academy, Dr. Nadia Lopez is pioneering a leadership path showing under-privileged communities creating positive institutions that have global impact. In 2015 a HONY fundraiser raised $1.4 million to provide Nadia’s students college trips and scholarships. As a result, Nadia has appeared on the Ellen Show, visited President Obama, and received the Medal of Distinction from Barnard College. Dr. Lopez also became a Black Girls Rock Change Agent and TED Fellow.

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