Alum Kelly Harper named Washington, D.C.'s teacher of the year

Kelly Harper teaches a group of students

Credit: Courtesy of District of Columbia Public Schools

A summer leadership program following her first year as a Teach for America corps member convinced Kelly Harper, Ed '16 (MS), to forget about law school and stick with teaching instead. For dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline—school disciplinary policies that bring students into contact with law enforcement—the classroom would do as well as the courtroom.

An eye-blink later, at 28, she became the 2019 Teacher of the Year for her native Washington, D.C. Harper chose to teach in one of the city's lowest-performing schools, not unlike the ones her father and other family members attended. Her third-graders at Amidon-Bowen Elementary develop leadership skills through culturally relevant lessons and activism. Some have shared their concerns about gun violence in letters to the mayor and in a meeting with Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C. delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives. A leader among teachers, Harper has advocated successfully for rigorous teacher training in social-emotional learning and for embedding skills such as coping, self-regulation, and conflict resolution into the curriculum. Too often, she says, students experiencing trauma "are expected to embrace rigorous content without attention to their hearts' needs."

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