KIPP Indy Unite Elementary’s 5th grade Social Studies teacher, Deijah Barnes, shares about her path to teaching, how her team pursues equity in the classroom, and what’s inspiring her during this time.

Questions appear in bold, while Deijah’s answers follow.

Questions and answers were edited for space and clarity.

Tell us about yourself. What path led you to teaching 5th grade at KIPP Indy Unite Elementary?

I am from a small town down in Lumberton, North Carolina. I’ve always had big dreams and been affirmed by those in my church and community that I would grow up to be a world changer; much like the messages we send our students at KIPP Indy. I took those messages as truth in the face of every obstacle that came my way. When teachers told me I couldn’t take pre-algebra courses, I doubled up my math courses during my freshman year to ensure I’d be in AP-Calculus right along with my other classmates.

When I learned about educational inequity while studying social work in graduate school, I knew I wanted to work in education to evoke change. I saw myself in the stories of black and brown students who are wrongfully tracked academically, who sit as the minority in courses with mostly white students, and are culturally misunderstood by teachers and schools alike.

So, I sought out opportunities to make an impact in the classroom. I joined Teach For America Indianapolis and am now confident that I am exactly where I am supposed to be teaching scholars. I truly thought that I was coming into the classroom to help shape students, but in the end, it is them who have eternally shaped me. I am better because I teach.

What has surprised you the most about our KIPP Indy team and family?

What surprised me most about KIPP Indy was that we are truly a team and family. You can feel it not only amongst staff members but with our students and families as well. The love and care is tangible. My team, which has so many powerful and dedicated educators, inspire me to be the best teacher that I can be for my students. Teaching at KIPP Indy has allowed me to flourish and mature both personally and professionally. To me, team and family simply means being a light that ignites the light of others to shine as well.

The beginning of this school year is unlike any other. How have you and your team been intentional about building relationships with your students in this virtual environment?

Let me first say that my 5th grade team is made up of devoted and passionate women! As a team, we really value building strong relationships with our scholars, catering to the whole child, and meeting every child’s individual academic needs. During this E-Learning time, we’ve engaged our students by discussing current events and teaching students ways for them to holistically take care of themselves during these times. Not to mention personally delivering goodie-bags to students who are crushing it during E-learning!

How have you seen KIPP Indy pursue equity during this back-to-school time?

KIPP Indy has been a powerhouse. We have ensured every KIPPster has access to laptops, hotspots, and class materials. We took an entire week to meet with every family to make sure they were first-day ready by understanding the technology and class expectations.

This past week, we intentionally took time to pause our traditional instruction during the March on Washington. Students had an opportunity to engage with one another and reflect on the monumental history taking place right now in our country, especially as it relates to Black lives. This made me truly proud to be a part of this community. KIPP Indy is doing the work to ensure that we are an anti-racist organization that provides true equity.

What inspires you the most about this school year?

I’m most inspired by my fellow teachers who are deeply committed to making sure our students have the best virtual learning experience. Every person I’ve spoken to has gone the extra mile in their own way- whether it be spreading joy during team and family time or consistently communicating with families about their students’ progress.

Students and families have also been a great source of inspiration to me. They are working together and starting the school year off strong. It’s beautiful that I am surrounded by passionate leaders and students alike who are showing me that we can do hard things in the midst of uncertainty.