For Shantel Sappleton, KIPP DC LEAP Academy’s principal, the journey to becoming a school leader began in her mother’s home daycare, where she would help out as a child assisting other kids. “She would always tell me I was really good with kids, which at the time I didn’t understand because I was still a kid myself,” she said. “In high school, I took a job with the daycare I attended as a child, and working there I realized that this was my passion and decided to go to school for it.”
Ms. Sappleton would attend the University of Connecticut, where she obtained both her bachelor’s and masters in Education. After teaching for nine years at the elementary and middle levels in both Baltimore and Washington, DC, she took a position with KIPP DC Grow Academy as a lead teacher.
“I fell in love with teaching this age group and everything that comes with the first years of school for a student. One, they’re just so eager to learn at this age. But more importantly, when I was teaching older age groups, I noticed at times developmental building blocks that they were missing. Things like social-emotional skills, problem-solving, or reasoning. Having taught older age groups, I can use the knowledge of knowing where these students are going to build a strong foundation at the early childhood level for students. I can also empower teachers to understand how important their job is.”
The transition to stepping outside of the classroom and into school leadership was a natural fit for Ms. Sappleton. As a teacher, she always kept an open-door policy for fellow teachers and looked forward to the opportunity to help other educators by sharing techniques or resources.
“When I thought about leadership, I would ask myself, ‘How far do you want your reach to go,'” she recalled. “Me being great within my four walls does nothing for the teacher across the hall that may be struggling. I want what’s happening in my classroom to translate across the school, and I think that’s what motivated me to be in this position. If I stay in the classroom, I can reach the 25 students that I’m teaching, but if I step outside my room, I can help 200.”
The teachers and staff at LEAP Academy are tasked with educating and developing a love of learning in some of our youngest students. The job of leading LEAP’s school community is made easier by the dedication and commitment of staff who love students and are committed to bringing joy and enthusiasm to the classroom each day, as she describes.
“They come in with smiles every day and are so welcoming to our students and families. Of course, we want them to learn, but school for our students should also be fun. There should be smiles and laughter and all the things that come with teaching this age group. You walk into our classrooms and can feel the warmth and genuine love our teachers have for students.
From helping out her mother in her daycare to now leader of KIPP DC LEAP Academy’s school community, Shantel Sappleton is a warm, welcoming, and motivating presence as our youngest learners build a foundation for success in school and beyond.