When Michelle Wade started working as a Youth Coach at the Zone in 2016, she was no stranger to teaching. As a math teacher for Teach for America, Michelle had worked with low-income students in the rural South. So when the Zone created its new Education Coordinator position in August 2017, Michelle was a perfect fit. Since then, she has been helping connect the youth at the Zone with educational opportunities and resources. In recognition of her efforts, Michelle was recently included in The Incline's Who's Next 2018 Education list as one of 20 people who are making a difference in education in Pittsburgh.
One of Michelle's primary tasks as Education Coordinator is helping youth prepare for the GED exam. She also leads educational field trips, explores college options with the youth, and provides help with FAFSA forms. She tests each student and helps them create individualized education plans based on their current skill level. From there, it’s really up to the student to prioritize and put in the time. “That’s the biggest thing I work with young people here about,” Michelle said. “Time management and figuring out strategies that work for them.”
Michelle emphasizes that hers is not a traditional classroom. It’s more of a place where students can engage in study sessions and focus on their own individual goals and sometimes even talk about other issues in their lives that are acting as barriers to their success. “You have to be flexible to meet their needs,” Michelle said. That means sometimes discussing housing options rather than fractions.
Since the Zone started offering GED prep in November 2017, Michelle has witnessed a true desire to learn among her students. She talked about a student who misses class for weeks at a time but always returns to continue her learning. “When you do have those moments where the youth show real resilience, it’s impressive because there are so many challenges. So when they are able to really say I want to focus today, it is impressive and hopeful to see that.”
According to Michelle, one of the biggest challenges facing students taking the GED exam is reading comprehension. That’s why she views educational field trips as such a relevant part of her curriculum. “It’s important to find more opportunities so that the young people can be exposed to different things that they might not have the opportunity to see otherwise. Those kinds of experiences are what build context for reading comprehension. Seeing new things, learning new words. Then when you read about it, you understand.”
Moving forward, Michelle wants to continue helping her students reach their educational goals and expose them to new experiences. She firmly believes that all children deserve a quality education. “I was really interested in working at the Zone because what I enjoy most about teaching is making those personal relationships with kids and really helping them toward what their actual goal is.”
For more information on the educational programs at the Zone, contact Michelle at 412-522-5086 or firstname.lastname@example.org.