There is a mantra that Jasmia Fowler, new Principal at Ánimo College Preparatory Academy (ACPA), lives by: ‘If not you, then who? If not now, then when?’ Although it may sound demanding, the phrase has proven to be one of the most important reminders she has adopted in her career. “I can't leave it up to someone else because we don't have a minute to waste. We must have a sense of urgency because our students, our teachers, our families, and communities deserve nothing short of our best,” said Fowler. It is this commitment to the success of students and a strong desire for change that led Fowler to Green Dot, a place she now proudly calls home.
From Howard to Harvard
Fowler always wanted to help young people. As an undergrad at Howard University she initially wanted to pursue a career as a speech pathologist. After graduating from Howard University, Fowler joined Teach For America as a special education teacher in hopes of having the opportunity to make a tangible and immediate impact in an area that had effected so many close to her. Fowler recognized that the opportunities given to her were not necessarily afforded to everyone. “I made it to Howard University through grit and hard work, and I struggled tremendously while many of my more affluent peers who were often people of color, but lived in a different zip code or had a different socioeconomic status, entered college at a totally different educational level than I did.” Unfortunately Fowler’s experience is common--too often a student's zip code or socioeconomic status limits their access to a high quality education, including exposure to advanced skills, opportunities, and careers. Of 100 middle class ninth-graders, 71 will go to enroll in college and 55 will graduate with a degree. But of 100 low-income ninth-graders, only 37 will pursue college and only three will make it to graduation. Even worse, studies show that low-income students and students of color are less likely to be taught by top teachers.
Fowler grew up in a community much like those we serve: underserved and lacking in many opportunities. It wasn't until she took an urban education course as part of her Community Development minor at Howard that she really began to see and understand the educational inequality that plagued her community and those like it. “I started reflecting on the experiences and the gaps in education that I, alongside those close to me, experienced, and how that had affected our trajectories and adult lives,” recalled Fowler.
Each year in her classroom, Fowler fell more in love with teaching and the impact that rigorous curriculum and high expectations had on her students: “I was so energized by the things that were happening in my classroom, specifically for my students with special needs-- from them being able to differentiate lessons, to becoming more engaged, and eventually gaining a newfound love for learning.” Seeing her students’ growth at the end of the school year really affected Fowler and made her reflect. “I knew these things were happening in my class, but I knew it wasn’t a consistent experience when students stepped outside of my classroom. So I began to wonder how I could help facilitate this growth on a school wide basis,” she reflected. For her, the answer was school leadership. Fowler would go on to enroll in the School of Leadership at Harvard Graduate School of Education. Upon graduating, she returned to Chicago where she served as an assistant principal and principal.
I AM ACPA
Across Green Dot’s network, our educators are working to ensure all students have access to a personalized, rigorous education that exposes them to stimulating experiences, and helps them build skills we know are vital to their success.
This is what drew Fowler to Green Dot, and she spent her first summer as a Green Dot school leader working closely with ACPA’s educators and staff.“It was important that we all checked our mindsets to ensure each and every one of us believed that every scholar who walked onto this campus could achieve greatness. That meant not lowering the bar or expectations for what they can do based on where they are,” said Fowler.
Why We Give Our Best
Under Fowler’s leadership, the ACPA team is focusing their professional development, coaching sessions, and collaboration time on meeting students where they are. “We know we must remain flexible and able to revise and reshape our strategies and interventions because our students need a lot of supports,” said Fowler. “However, we also know they can get it done, and we are working extremely hard to assure that the best practices are being employed in all classrooms to provide students with what they need to be successful.”
One of Fowler’s initiatives as the new principal is to revamp school culture, not only for the students, but for the teachers and the community. The phrase #IAMACPA has been displayed throughout the campus and is uttered by staff and students alike. “I launched #IAMACPA to show that we are all an integral part of the fabric that makes up this unique and beautiful place that we call ACPA,” beamed Fowler.
“When I see a student or teacher in our school who has been significantly dealing with a challenge, but are able to overcome it because of a conversation we've had through coaching or resources ACPA has been able to provide, it truly brings me joy,” she said. “Regardless if it takes them a few weeks or a few months, seeing that growth reminds me why this work is so critical and why we must give our best every single day.”