Teach For America South Carolina 2019
Third-Grade Teacher, Legacy Early College Elementary School
Brye Epley’s hometown may have been small, but it taught big lessons.
In Swansea, S.C., Epley saw firsthand the struggles of ordinary people to build whole, healthy lives. Her dad worked as a welder; her mom wrangled three kids and made their house a home. Epley attended public schools. All around her, inequity showed in issues of race, class, healthcare … even ZIP codes.
By the time Epley went off to college at the University of South Carolina Aiken, she had a full awareness that things weren’t right. An important teacher brought things into better focus.
“Professor Philip Mason taught Sociology 101, and he was the reason I became a sociology major,” said Epley. “He started my journey to understanding justice issues in stratification, economics, and education. Professor Mason taught me to have perspective, and he showed me the values in other people’s perspectives.”
After college graduation, Epley applied to Teach For America (TFA) to put her values to work.
“The TFA mission aligned with what I wanted to work on in educational equity and confronting justice issues – across borders, policies, medicine, and more,” she said. “Instead of starting something by myself, I wanted to join people already in the fight.”
In 2019, Epley was placed by Teach For America South Carolina (TFASC) to teach at Legacy Early College Elementary School in Greenville, S.C. She’s now in her third year of teaching 30 diverse third-grade students, many born into families where English isn’t the household tongue.
“We have a large English as a Second Language (ESL) population,” said Epley. “There is one French student this year, and we have many students from Mexico and Honduras. Thirty-seven percent of the class is ESL learners.”
Epley teaches her promising students using “consistency and compassion.”
“My TFASC training helped me understand that consistency is key in everything we do – procedures, meetings, consequences, and all,” explained Epley. “And I think it’s easy for us adults to forget that compassion and grace go hand-in-hand when we teach young people.”
She added, “We all want to be seen, loved, and heard. At the end of the day, we want to develop children as human beings, not only academically.”
A lifelong anchor for Epley’s physical and emotional health has been sports – especially soccer. She was captain of her university team in Aiken for two years, and she is now varsity head men’s soccer coach at Legacy Early College.
She thinks consistency and compassion guide soccer coaching too.
“In the classroom, you want to model and communicate a strategy for success, whether it’s taking tests, reading, language skills, whatever,” said Epley.
“Modeling skills and communicating a strategy for success is just as important on an athletic team as in a classroom,” she added. “You let students practice. You evaluate them individually. You work on areas that need improvement.”
“In the end, you want them to believe success is possible … whatever the odds.”