Education is the key to success in life, and teachers make a lasting impact in the lives of their students.”-Solomon Ortiz
Lashon Clay is one of those people you feel you have known forever, even though you may have just met. She has a captivating, larger-than-life personality, and a zest for life that is rivaled only by her perseverance.
Ms. Clay is the 7th and 8th grade science and social studies teacher at Sampson-Webber Leadership Academy. She has been a DPSCD Go Green Challenge Sustainability Coordinator for the past five years and she coordinates the Academic Games, where students compete in tournaments focused on Math, English, Social Studies and Logic.
Pregnant with her first child at the age of 13, Ms. Clay had to grow up fast. She had a total of four kids by the time she was 19, and Ms. Clay had to choose between continuing her own education and working to provide for her children. Sadly, Ms. Clay’s own mother passed away when her youngest daughter was only a year old. Her brother helped her out as much as possible, but she had to get serious about her future. “Going to high school was out of the question. I was in survival mode, but I knew I had to change my life in order for my kids to have a better life,” said Ms. Clay.
That change came with the help of Mrs. Davis, a teacher who offered to help Ms. Clay pay for food and clothing if she promised to finish school. It was this teacher who gave Ms. Clay the ability to see the value in continuing her education, to help her build a future for her family. Ms. Clay needed the proper resources and support to steer her in the right direction and once she saw what was possible, she not only progressed, she excelled. Exactly what she hopes to accomplish with her own students at Sampson-Webber.
Ms. Clay kept her promise and eventually got her GED from Lula Belle Stuart in Detroit, and she didn’t stop there. She attended Highland Park Community College, where she got her Associate’s Degree in Science, and eventually transferred to the University of Detroit Mercy for her Bachelor’s Degree in Mathematics, all while raising and supporting her four children.
She is a force of character and shows no signs of stopping. This year, Ms. Clay won a Bosch Grant Award to help fund her outdoor classroom project. The outdoor classroom will have a “Zen Garden” and greenhouse, to help students who may be dealing with emotional issues and to provide a calming environment where the students can learn. Ms. Clay describes her teaching style as unorthodox, but some people would call it innovative.
It is obvious how much of her time and effort Ms. Clay puts into her role as an educator, and it is even more obvious how much she loves it. Her face lights up when she talks about her students’ science fair projects or how well her students did at their Black History Month essay-writing competition. As a product of Detroit, Ms. Clay pushes them to work hard and to believe in themselves because she was them once. She chooses to share her story to show her students that it is possible to overcome any struggle or obstacle, even when the odds are stacked against you. These students need to know that not only are they capable of overcoming the obstacles they will inevitably face; they are capable of excellence. Furthermore, they are worthy of excellence and deserve the opportunity to succeed.
The whole idea of ranking academic performance based on standardized test scores is geared towards students with a more methodical learning style. All students learn differently and at a different pace. Learning should not be viewed as a “one size fits all” perspective and until we level the playing field, these students should be evaluated based on their personal progress and not perfection.
If her students retain nothing else from her classroom, Ms. Clay hopes they will have learned one thing. “No matter what obstacles you face in life or your parents face, it doesn’t mean you can’t overcome them. Never give up, and motivate yourself. Don’t wait for someone else to do it for you.” Possessing that kind of knowledge, is far more valuable than the kind of knowledge that an SAT or ACT score stands to represent.