Alumna Inspires Special Education Students to Become Leaders in the Fight against Hunger
As Latasha Jones ’13Ed.D. sees it, obstacles are opportunities that help build character. A teacher of middle-school students with special needs, Jones recently steered her class at PS186X Walter J. Damrosch School in the Bronx, NY, to capture first place out of 850 schools in the 2013–14 Lead2Feed Student Leadership Challenge. The competition involves a service-learning project in which students address hunger issues.
Through the initiative—sponsored by the USA TODAY Charitable Foundation, Lift a Life Foundation, and Yum! Brands Foundation—Jones’s students ran a canned food drive, bake sale, and raffle to raise funds for two South Bronx soup kitchens, where they helped prepare and serve food. The money they raised was enough to provide meals for 525 people. By playing the World Food Program’s (WFP) Free Rice online game, the class also accumulated a large quantity of rice for donation to hungry children worldwide.
The class donated the $25,000 prize from the competition to the two soup kitchens. “I knew the odds were tough,” said Jones. “But I was confident that with the right tools and encouragement, special education students could achieve amazing things. I believe that every student deserves choices and a chance to shine.”
By participating in the initiative, her students also improved their reading and math skills, with one qualifying to enter a mainstream high school. Jones and several members of her class were featured on Fox 5 News Good Day New York Street Talk and ABC 7 News Above and Beyond.
Jones’s students, who called themselves “The Feeding Angels,” bonded through the project. “Some of us didn’t get along at first,” they noted in their Lead2Feed essay. “But when we shared our reflections, we discovered we had a lot in common and we were able to work together as a team. The experience taught us compassion, responsibility, and the spirit of service to one’s community. “
Jones has overcome challenges in her own life. When she was 26 and working on her master’s degree in education at Mercy College, her mother died suddenly, leaving her to assume custody of her brother and sister. Six years later, Jones was finishing courses for her Doctor of Education degree in Administration and Supervision at St. John’s when she lost her brother. She credits the support she received from the SJU community—especially James Campbell, Ph.D, professor of administration and instructional leadership, and Rosalba Del Vecchio, Ed.D., director of the nonpublic school leaders program—with helping her to earn her Ed.D. in 2013 and her Advanced Certificate in School Building Leadership in 2014.
“Latasha’s extraordinary commitment to teaching impressed me,” said Campbell, who served as her thesis advisor. “She wrote her thesis about her experience at Leake & Watts, where she worked with children confronting academic, developmental, and delinquency issues, including substance abuse.”
“Latasha has become an exceptional ambassador for our program and for The School of Education,” noted Del Vecchio. “Her commitment to helping the marginalized sets an example for other teachers and the recognition she has been getting has increased outside interest in our curriculum.”
“Thanks to St. John’s,” Jones said, “I’ve become a professional educator who knows how to use character-building resources and change lives.”