In honor of April being Celebrate Diversity Month, we’d like to recognize one of our partners, Dr. Michelle Sanchez for her honorable work with families and young children as the Principal of Epiphany School, a tuition-free private school open to children who live in Boston and are from economically disadvantaged families.
This is the second part of our series. You can read the first part here.
PJ: What kinds of long-term impact do you see this shift in education having on our society?
Everything I do is about changing the lives of students and families. At our middle school, we’re aiming to inspire the next generation of youth to go out in the world aware of injustice and feel empowered to do something about it.
Also, we’re creating an educational environment that not only cares about a students’ academics, but also their social emotional growth by providing therapy and making sure their basic health needs are met.
Both our Early Learning Center and Middle School serve high needs families. All of the services we offer should be provided to every student across the country but they aren’t.
Our ultimate goal is to help families put themselves in better situations. We are addressing housing security, accessing a better career path, financial security and so on. Our mission is to help families mitigate their traumas so it doesn’t derail their success.
PJ: Research shows that the education field has a number of racial inequities ingrained in the system. How do you ensure that you hire staff that represents the students and families you work with?
One of the most amazing aspects of our school is that we have a teaching fellow training program to help create the next generation of teachers by enabling a cycle where a lot of the program’s graduates are able to come back and work for our school. This creates a community of adults working at our school who share similar lived experiences with the students we serve.
If they don’t share those experiences, we ensure that our staff have a background in doing social justice work. I’m fortunate to work in an environment where I don’t often have to worry about things like microaggressions in the workplace because our staff has similar backgrounds to our students.
PJ: While the work you do is critical to revamping our current education system, I’m sure it can be exhausting at times. How do you practice mental wellness and make time for yourself?
I have not always been great at practicing mental wellness, but teaching has made me realize that it is very important to put my own mental health first.
Based on my childhood experiences, I have a very high ACE (adverse childhood experience) score. I went through college and didn’t do any real mental processing work to make myself healthy.
As soon as I started to work with the kids and hear their stories, I realized my own childhood trauma was unresolved. And in order to really help young people, I needed to go through my own therapy and self care process.
I started taking art classes and practicing yoga and trying new things so I could take care of myself and heal.
Having my own family also showed me how important it is to learn how to balance work and home life, in order to really be there for my family and children. I wanted to raise my children differently than the way my mom raised my siblings and me. I wanted to make sure I had the means to be able to physically attend my kids’ sports games and support their extracurricular activities. So for me, another form of self care is being there for my family.
PJ: In closing, what advice would you give to other people looking to get into social justice work?
It’s important to have that one thing that puts you in a space of peace because this work doesn’t turn off. So you need a place where you can turn it off in order to sustain it.