Shareki Chaney serves as the Project Learning Ignited by Families and Teachers Together (LIFTT)* Coordinator at the Alliance for Community, Teachers and Schools (ACTS) where she engages teams of parents and teachers at six Baltimore City Public Schools to act as co-educators. These teams participate in school-wide campaigns for improvement that serve as many as 3,000 children over the course of one school year.
I was born and raised here in Baltimore and can remember from a very early time in my life that I wanted to be the light in someone’s day. The question was how could I do that? My parents would always say, “Never talk to strangers,” but I was a child determined. I knew I could say “Hi” with a friendly smile and keep walking. It worked, and almost every person I encountered I would say “Good Morning” or “Hello” and that would bring such a bright smile to people faces and it brought me so much joy. I think this was when I realized I wanted to be an encouragement to people, to show if you just hold on you will get through.
I came from a family that struggled day to day and did not know a way out. For some reason this was normal. I was raised in poverty and I did not have many role models to show me life could be different. But even in this darkness I still managed to find light. I was the first of my immediate family to go to college, and I’ll say it’s because I fought to be better, to do better, and to make it out of the generational curse I was trapped in.
I have a seven year old, Malik, and my plan is to show him you are not your circumstances, you can be anything you want to be as long as you try and never settle. I encourage him in the very way I wasn’t encouraged. I want him to know his full potential and go so far beyond that.
When Malik was transitioning from Kindergarten to first grade, I wanted him to go to a school that would push him in a positive way. I found that and so much more in KIPP Harmony Academy. I became a Parent Leader volunteer at KIPP and in that role I was a part of the process it took to get people on the bus for the $1 Billion Block Grant Rally in Annapolis. I also recruited volunteers for the first play ground build on KIPP’s premises, and helped with a major public transportation change at the school, which needed buses for the safety of the children, parents, and other transit riders. My volunteer work with KIPP is what led to me being selected for a GHCC-sponsored VISTA position.
The major challenge I face as a VISTA is being away from Malik, but I believe he sees my passion and understands. I have learned that in every challenge there is a learning lesson, and I’m proud to explain to him my work and the importance of it.
I chose to become a VISTA because of my experience growing up. The goal of eradicating poverty is great because so many people suffer in so many different ways, and this should and will change. I serve with ACTS (Alliance for Community, Teachers and Schools) because I get to be the light in someone’s life through telling my story. I was able to make it through this fight by pushing and continuing to fight no matter what trials I’ve faced, and AmeriCorps and ACTS have been the lights at the end of my tunnel. ACTS has shown so much love and appreciation for having me as a Team member. I feel a part of something that is so awesome that its mind blowing as well as comforting. So now I get to go out and comfort people, push them to their fullest potential, and more importantly, reassure them that just like I came through rough time, they too can do the same exact thing. I get to help people through new and innovative ways, all with a smile – that’s a great outcome in my opinion!
*Project LIFTT (Learning Ignited by Families and Teachers Together) – Through Project LIFTT, families have a “way in” to the productive work of educating children, one that is potentially transformative for the school community, as well as for the individuals involved. Working with community-based organizations that have a history with partner schools, we are developing a sustainable, productive parent-teacher engagement system. Parents will work with teachers directly in their classrooms, improving communication, advocacy, educational activities, and insight not only for the 6 parents and 6 teachers, but for the fellow parents and fellow teachers with whom they share their experiences. Together, they will undertake an annual School Development Campaign that mobilizes the rest of the school around a challenge of critical importance.