Teaching was not Barbara Wright’s first career choice. She came from a family of entrepreneurs and had followed in their footsteps. Her present career in education began when she started as a substitute teacher in the Algebra 3 class at Longwood High School a few years back. Ms. Wright said, “I had been an entrepreneur all of my life but when I lost three three family members and, during the grieving process, my business had suffered. Teaching became a part of my healing process. The kids were learning what I was teaching and, after that first year, the school leadership asked me to stay on.”
Then came another opportunity. Ms. Wright was offered to teach the Entrepreneurship class, something that she recognized as being tangential in the businesses that she had run. “Many of my employees were young adults and I knew where the holes were in their education.” She stresses the importance of math and wants to change her students’ mindset around math, especially as it relates to running a business. “In business, you have to know math. You have to be able to read a financial statement and understand the language of finance. As black entrepreneurs, we can create jobs and keep our wealth in our communities.”
The Entrepreneurship class Ms. Wright teaches, uses the program components from Network For Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE). The curriculum ranges from understaning market research to being able to calculate expenses and overhead as well as basic bookkeeping. Ms. Wright believes that students will need to have an entrepreneurial mindset no matter what they choose to do in their life. “I tell them that, whatever their passion is, go to school, get experience and then go out and do it.” She wants them to see the possibilities so she invites entrepreneurs to present to her students. This year's roster includes a photographer who works for the USPS, a radiologist and a computer scientist who started their own construction business.
On a recent Thursday, Ms. Wright’s class met with volunteers from NFTE. Business leaders from the community meet virtually with small groups of students to listen, guide and mentor the students as they build their business plans. At the end of the meeting, students and volunteers came back together to share their learning with one another.
Her work doesn’t stop there. Barbara is also the math interventionist and credit recovery coordinator for students who have fallen behind. She mentioned, “there are many different ways to teach Algebra. I try to teach in a real-world way and make it relatable to their lives.” While credit recovery is offered as a self-paced on-line course, she also provides additional one-on-one support. Ms. Wright is concerned about the number of students who will need intervention next year and is already prepared to support all of them. But there have been bright spots this year with some students. “Some of my students have done well in the small groups. They had no math confidence in class and often didn’t say anything. Now they have the confidence to speak up and not feel judged.” When students can return to in-person learning, Ms. Wright will bring what she has learned back into her classroom.
Barbara was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent sixteen rounds of chemo, surgery, a month of radiation and three months of oral chemo which caused her hair loss. She credits prayer with helping her through that process but also her students. “My kids went through the process with me. I never wanted to shock them but when I talked with School Director Freeman about taking my wig off in front of them, they showed amazing empathy for me.” Barbara speaks to her students as individual people. “I want them to have the confidence to speak up and out about themselves. I tell them that, no matter what they do in life. They will have to sell themselves in every situation.” Ms. Wright will continue to focus on the future of her students and making sure they have the skills they need to tell their stories.