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Community and Engagement

3rd Annual Leadership Institute for Future Teachers (LIFT) Provides Opportunity for Rising High School Seniors of Color and Bilingual Students to ‘Use The Voice We Were Born to Use’

Eighteen rising high school seniors from across North Carolina gathered at NC State University July 24-28 to take part in the College of Education’s third annual Leadership Institute For Future Teachers (LIFT), a five-day, invitational program that works to inspire rising high school seniors, particularly students of color and bilingual students, to explore careers in education and enhance their leadership skills.

It is the first year LIFT has been held in person, and Amber McGregor, LIFT program manager and the Wake STEM Early College High School liaison at the NC State College of Education, said the focus was on preparing students to tell their unique stories. 

“We really wanted to bring in students from diverse backgrounds and have them understand the challenges of getting teachers from diverse backgrounds in the state of North Carolina,” McGregor said. “Part of the way to do that is by them telling their story of who they are, what they’ve accomplished and the unique things about themselves that could actually contribute to the classroom and to the students they would be serving.”

To help students realize the power of their stories, McGregor brought in a number of motivational speakers, beginning with keynote speaker Anthony Graham, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs at Winston-Salem State University. Graham shared how he grew up in Kinston, North Carolina, attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel-Hill and eventually became the youngest Black man to earn his Ph.D. in education at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. 

“He left all of us ‘LIFT-ers’ motivated to never stop putting in the work, no matter where we are in life,” said Jeremiah Washington, who attends John F. Kennedy High School in Forsyth County.

Additional speakers throughout the week included Jorge Pacheco Santiago ’16, a high school teacher in the Wake County Public School System; Carol Bono, communications manager for LatinxEd; and a panel of school administrators that included Cheryl Fenner, principal of Southeast Raleigh Elementary School; Douglas McCullough ’19MSA, assistant principal at Salem Middle School; and Sara Morey ’20MSA, assistant principal at Leesville Road High School. 

“We want students to know there are people that look just like you in the field and career you’re interested to go into, and they’re experts in those fields,” McGregor said.

To discover how their voices can make an impact, LIFT participants also took part in leadership development sessions throughout the week led by NC State College of Education Wake Principal Leadership Program cohort director Karen Anderson. Anderson challenged students to identify an issue in the field of education and come up with a solution. 

“During this process, we learned there is more than one way to talk about issues; there is more than one way to learn about issues and there is more than one way to solve these issues,” said Kenneth Hernandez-Villanueva, a LIFT participant who attends Freedom High School in Burke County.

To demonstrate the importance leadership plays in the field of education, McGregor set up a tour at the North Carolina State Legislative Building, where students had a chance to speak with Arianna Alvarez, the legislative assistant for Rep. Ricky Hurtado. Hurtado represents Alamance County and is the co-founder of LatinxEd.

“With these students interested in education, we wanted them to talk to people who are doing a lot of the decision making around education,” McGregor said. 

During the week, LIFT participants stayed on campus and, in the evenings, they had time to build relationships and share their stories with each other — through activities that included a cookout, a movie night and even a talent show. 

“I have really loved LIFT,” said Jimena Belen Carlos, a LIFT participant who attends Lincolnton High School in Lincoln County. “I feel really welcome, I feel confident — it’s a really safe space. I’ve never been a person to put myself out there, but here I made so many connections, and they all made me feel really safe. I can be myself in front of them.”

The LIFT participants demonstrated the lessons they learned throughout the program at the LIFT closing luncheon, which the students planned themselves. In front of a crowd of educators and family members, LIFT participants played guitar, read poems and led presentations where they reflected on their experiences throughout the week. 

Kayla Womble, a sophomore elementary education major and former LIFT participant who served as one of the program mentors during the week, came away impressed. 

“I came to inspire y’all, and now I’m leaving inspired,” Womble told the students.

At the luncheon, MariaRosa Rangel, director of Family and Community Engagement for the Wake County Public School System, received the 2022 LIFT Innovator Award and also delivered the keynote speech. She made a point to talk to the students about the unique impact they can make.

“We need mirrors,” Rangel said. “We need more Latino educators, we need more African American educators; we need more male educators that are African American and Latino educators. We need to make sure our students see themselves in us.”

After LIFT, Hernandez-Villanueva said he is prepared to do just that.

“We learned to introduce ourselves and use the voice we were born to use,” Hernandez-Villanueva said.