Brandon Stanton, creator of the Humans of New York photo blog, recently interviewed a student at Mott Hall Bridges Academy named Vidal. Unbeknownst to Vidal, this interview would change the trajectory of the school and its principal, Ms. Lopez. When Vidal was asked who influences him most, he responded that his principal, Nadia Lopez, inspires him most. He explained, “when we get in trouble, she doesn’t suspend us. She calls us to her office and explains to us how society was built down around us. And she tells us that each time somebody fails out of school, a new jail cell gets built. And one time she made every student stand up, one at a time, and she told each one of us that we matter.”
After such an honest and moving response, Stanton went to Mott Hall and met Ms. Lopez. Immediately, he could not have been more impressed. “She is a force of nature,” he said. Although Ms. Lopez didn’t know it, she was making a huge difference in a school that needed it. Mott Hall is a middle school located in Brownsville, NY – a low income area riddled with crime. After meeting such a powerful woman, Stanton wanted to help the school overcome some of its obstacles. The two put together a campaign to raise enough money to send these middle school scholars on a visit to the prestigious Harvard University, where the students are able to see what life can be like outside of their tough neighborhood. Stanton created a campaign page which raised enough funds for the trip and more. The money raised will now fund each sixth grade class on a trip to Harvard.
As a high school teacher in a difficult district, this was one of those feel-good stories that reminded me of the power of education. The world needs more people like Ms. Lopez who doesn’t hold back the words ‘because you’re worth it’ to kids who probably need it most but maybe get told it the least. Lopez is a game changer for these students, who need to hear the words she’s saying. She teaches them self-respect and high expectations, despite the expectations society and the neighborhood might have for them. She’s making a difference that matters through her leadership and dedication to a job that most people would refuse.
Through Stanton and Lopez’s campaign, Mott Hall will now be able to grant scholarships to graduating Mott Hall students. Vidal, the boy who started everything, will be the first recipient. Stanton and Lopez are also dedicating any leftover funds from the original campaign to a summer program at Mott Hall. This summer program would aim to keep students learning and having fun in a safe, productive way, which is incredible. It would keep students focused and maintain the positivity radiating through the school year. Programs like these are the ones that end up becoming focal points of a community, bringing it together to work toward a common goal of creating successful schools.
Schools are sometimes the safest place for students to be. When people like Lopez run them or teach in them or volunteer in them, schools become more than buildings that kids have to attend school in – they become places where students meet their fullest potential and where they learn to believe in themselves. The realities of life can suddenly become motivation to do better and try harder. Education matters so much and has so much power to truly transform and change lives. You can check out the Mott Hall Bridges Academy homepage here, as well as the fundraiser page here.