Ms. Chentese Stewart is a fourth-grade lead teacher at KIPP DC Lead Academy and February’s Teacher Spotlight! Ms. Stewart is an alumnus of KIPP Philadelphia and graduated from Gettysburg College with degrees in sociology and education before joining KIPP DC in 2018 as a Resident in the Capital Teaching Residency.
“As a KIPP graduate, I had a lot of resources and always appreciated the mentors and figures I had in my life who helped me get to and through college,” she said. “So, education always felt like the path through which I could do the same for others.”
Familiar with the Capital Teaching Residency from a friend who entered the program a year before her and intrigued by the program’s support and gradual release model that pairs new educators with an experienced lead teacher, she relocated to Washington, DC to begin her career inside the classroom.
As with embarking on any new endeavor, but particularly teaching, there are going to be growing pains. But by January of her residency year, she made the transition from a second grade Resident in the Capital Teaching Residency to full-time fourth grade lead teacher. “Teaching isn’t something you do for a month and get it. It’s an everyday process that you have to stick with, even in the tough moments,” she described. “When I compare myself then to now, what sticks out the most is my classroom management, but also my ability to tailor my teaching approach to ensure I’m reaching every kid.”
The last part is critical to understanding Ms. Stewart’s approach to building connections with her students inside the classroom. Leading with love, always willing to tap into her students’ interests and passions to enhance learning, and placing emphasis on developing relationships with families, Ms. Stewart’s impact extends beyond mastery of content and into a strong sense of belonging for each student inside her classroom. This is furthered by a mentorship program she leads called Girls Group, where she meets with a group of fourth grade girls once a week during lunchtime to provide support and guidance.
“Studying sociology, you learn a lot about the importance of person to person interactions and how people relate to one another, and it’s something I can lean on,” she said. “It allows me to take an open-minded approach to how I interact with students and always try and come from a place of understanding first.”
Empowering students with the knowledge and skills to be successful is a top priority for our educators, but equally important is making students more socially aware of the world around them, which is something Ms. Stewart’s students are currently doing through a culturally relevant unit on the racial, cultural, and socioeconomic implications of food deserts.
“At my core, this is the work I always wanted to do. Being inside the classroom and informing my students about things that are happening around them while also giving them the tools to understand at such an early age is powerful.”
As some of our youngest learners, students in Ms. Stewart’s classroom are still in the early stages of their educational journeys. As they grow and mature into the next generation of leaders, they’ll do so in large part to love and a strong foundation established by Ms. Stewart.