Teach For America South Carolina 2018
Founding Teacher, Compass Collegiate Academy
“Kindergarten is a ball. Everybody should go to kindergarten at least one day a year,” said Vernesha Williams.
Not long ago, Williams didn’t know she’d love leading a kindergarten classroom. Nearing a bachelor’s degree in English from North Carolina A&T State University, Williams couldn’t decide what to do next.
“I went to so many career fairs, but I didn’t get that total piece,” she said. “Did I have to go to law school? I didn’t want to. I wanted to craft and create.”
Williams went out on a limb and filled out an application for Teach For America. In 2018, she was placed by Teach For America South Carolina (TFASC) to teach fourth and fifth grades in the Orangeburg County Consolidated School District.
She found her purpose.
“So many of us didn’t set out to teach,” said Williams. “We didn’t know what this journey would be like. TFASC gave us a safety net while we tried something new.”
Williams loved teaching so much that she signed on with TFASC for a second tour in 2021. She transitioned to teach kindergarten classes at Compass Collegiate Academy, a high-quality, tuition-free public charter school in Charleston.
She also found out that she was very good at teaching younger kids.
“We recently took our standardized tests, and my kindergartners really grew,” said Williams. “Sixteen of 20 students met their goals in math and reading, a huge improvement over last year.”
“We even got a trophy for progress! Our mascot is an eagle, and the class got eagle feathers – they’re right on top of my desk, so every kid can see and touch them.”
Williams said her entire school is unique. Her school has no bussing, and it seamlessly blends students from communities all over the Charleston area and across many lines of differences.
“I see them interact in life while they’re still so innocent,” said Williams. “There’s so much love in my classroom. It doesn’t matter where you’re from – if you’re in a loving classroom, you can do anything.”
She added, “I believe that our values at this school are going to shape the way our students think for their whole lives.”
Williams said that TFASC’s training while she was still an ingénue set her up for success.
“The best lesson I got? That teaching is about endurance,” said Williams. “It’s a race. And I know that every day is another, bigger race.”
Williams never forgets that one special educator who made a difference for her. “My mom.”
“When I was growing up, Mom hustled to get me the best teachers – even when the systems were working against me,” she said. “Always having someone on the sidelines gave me passion.”
Now, she’s the one cheering on her little learners. And they’re the ones responding with a passion for her classes.
Williams said that she might change one thing in South Carolina’s education system: “A nap now and then might help things.”
“I do not believe it’s completely necessary for kindergarten students to be in school for five days per week,” she said. “Kids need free play. They need fun. And no nap in school? That’s not realistic. We have to embrace living our lives. We have to have rest and happiness along with our work.”