Q&A with Danielle Harris-Wright ’10
How did you find your way into the field of education after graduating from Ursinus College?
The road to the education industry was not an immediate path for me. When I graduated from Ursinus, the first job I took was my long-time summer position working at a bagel shop! My boss kept joking that it was my “bagel internship.” While I was there I had the opportunity to informally assist a few high school students in their college application processes. Realizing I enjoyed working with high school kids, I began applying to any higher education opportunity I could find—teaching was not a thought since I didn’t have a teaching degree or certification. Furthermore, I think I was more so yearning for the college campus experience I’d grown so comfortable with at Ursinus. By October, I’d landed a job as an admissions counselor at Lincoln University of Pennsylvania, one of the longest standing historically black colleges in the country. It took less than a month for me to realize that many of the students I was serving in Philadelphia were not prepared to enter college. I had the frustrating task of advertising the great opportunities students would have at Lincoln, building relationships with kids and their families and then dealing the blow that their test scores or grades would not allow me to admit them into the university. I felt like I had a responsibility to be on the other side of this dilemma, preparing kids for the college admissions process on the front end, instead of denying them entry on the back end. I dusted off the Teach for America opportunity that I ignored in my senior year at UC, and went full speed ahead into teaching in 2011.
How did Ursinus College prepare you for a career in education?
To this day, I continue to recognize and appreciate ways Ursinus prepared me to be an educator. One major thing I took from my time at UC is the innumerable opportunities that exist for those who exert a genuine effort. Like so many of my lifelong UC friends and family, I had absolutely no clue what or who I was interested in becoming upon entering my 4-roommate suite in the Quad! Being at Ursinus exposed me to so many different opportunities, such as being a leader as an RA, serving as a student representative on the Middle States Review Board, working with President Strassburger’s secretary, and being vice president of S.U.N. and president of the USGA. The exposure that I experienced in such roles allow me to be open-minded and well-versed as I navigate through life as an adult. Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t admit that CIE is a point of reference in my household often—my husband, Julian Wright, graduated from UC in ’07—as CIE authors, texts and concepts tend to serve as the basis for many of my beliefs.
What is the most rewarding part of teaching? What is the most challenging?
One of the most gratifying aspects of my career as an educator is watching my students fall in love with a subject I personally despised at their age! I did not learn about true and full African and African American history until I had my first class with Dr. Greason at Ursinus. Now, I teach a course called “Africa and Ancient Civilizations” to ninth graders at an African centered, principles driven technology school in Philadelphia. My kids and I share in our disappointment when the bell rings and we’re not able to finish our discussions! When I was learning history in high school, I was the first student out the door at the end of every class, so it brings me so much joy when kids are surprised class is over.
One of the most challenging things for me is the fact that I can’t teach it all! I think I’ll always feel like I’m not doing enough for my kids. In 2011-2013, when I realized my ninth graders were struggling to comprehend our course materials, I was working to complete my master’s in urban education at the University of Pennsylvania—the degree continues to provide me with skills and insights necessary to serve my students, but it wasn’t enough. I went back to school to complete a second master’s in reading education at the University of Virginia. Now, I’m able to teach reading comprehension, disguised as African history, and kids can’t get enough! The problem is that I’m also itching to teach them how to effectively write about what they’ve read. There just aren’t enough minutes in a class or days in the school year!!
What are you most looking forward to this upcoming academic year?
Now that my school, Imhotep Institute Charter High School, has made the decision to go completely virtual until January 2021, I’m looking forward to adapting and growing with my students. It’s uncharted territory. I’m currently preparing for the challenge of building relationships and a community without meeting the students or families in person. It will be difficult, but I’m excited.
How has your institution responded to COVID-19? What does back to school look like for you?
On March 18, our students began online instruction for what we all assumed would be two weeks. It was challenging, but we pressed forward. During the final quarter of the 2020 school year, I was grateful to average close to 50% of my ninth graders logging into class daily at noon. Students were so grateful to have the consistency of seeing their classmates and facilitators online daily, as was I. It was a communal effort, constantly communicating with families to keep them abreast of their children’s struggles and successes as we all learned to navigate our “new normal.” We continued providing full instruction through the end of the year, including holding our daily libation ceremony and monthly awards celebrations!
In early July, Imhotep decided that the safest option for our community was to create and declare in advance a plan to teach and grow virtually with our students and teachers until at least January. All students will be provided laptops and whatever materials facilitators deem necessary for a most interactive and engaging school year. We will work closely with special education teachers to ensure that we do all we can to meet our students’ needs. Come January, families will have the option to remain fully virtual, or engage in a hybrid model of online and on-campus learning.
What message do you have for current UC students or recent graduates interested in the field of education?
GO FOR IT!! As I’ve begun to realize about myself, you should “Let Education Be Your Activism!” You’ve been privileged to obtain a beautifully rich college education and experience that has afforded you a wealth of knowledge and a heart for humanity. Going into the field of education can truly be your activism in the current American climate where biases, misinformation and miseducation can and should be exposed and rectified in the secondary school classroom, rather than perpetuated by generational strongholds.