National Charter Week Champion: Keshanta Jackson
As we celebrate National Charter School Week, I wanted to focus on some of the supportive roles made available through charter school networks that aren’t readily accessible in most private school settings.
For the past eight years, Keshanta Jackson has dedicated her blood, sweat, and tears to shaping the lives of the students at Abramson Sci Academy in New Orleans East. As a Behavior Interventionist, Keshanta spends her days with students who present with a significant history of behavioral issues, often compounded by socioeconomic barriers. Yet, despite the immense challenges, she never gives up on “her kids.”
As a role that may be overlooked by some, what does being a Behavior Interventionist mean to you?
Being a Behavior Interventionist means that I am a fighter. I fight for my students’ education. I fight for their exposure to equal opportunities. I fight for them to experience some sense of normalcy. Also, it is my passion to teach them the skills that so many of us take for granted(i.e. being a decent human being. As a Behavior Interventionist, I laugh, I cry, I am firm, I listen. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions, but even after eight years, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Although this is not typically a high-paying role and does not require an extensive educational background, there absolutely have to be people who are able and willing to be a part of the solution to make the changes necessary for our kids and their families to get the supports they need to do better and be better.
How do you manage the rollercoaster of emotions associated with being a Behavior Interventionist?
This has taken a lot of time for me to manage and the learning curve has been steep. It isn’t something you get right away. Initially, I was very attached, maybe too attached. And the first time I lost a child to violence, I had to take a step back and really reevaluate my role. It’s not that you become numb, but you do accept the fact that loss is part of the work because of the high-risk lifestyles in which many of our kids find themselves. But rather than give up, I take each loss as a learning opportunity for me to better address another child/situation differently in the future.
How do you measure change when there are so many barriers present?
Well, we all know that the traditional tracking method is with paperwork. But for me, the real way of measuring change is being observant of my students’ actions and noticing change. Noticing growth. Noticing a different response. Noticing more vulnerability. Sometimes just hearing a student say “Thank you” is a sign of major progress that should not be ignored. So while changes aren’t always monumental, they are milestones for sure. I don’t always see it within the same month, or even same school year, but the feeling I get when a former student returns to see me and I find out about where they are in life, and it’s better off than where they were, I can’t stop smiling. This is the most rewarding part of my job.
What would you say to a critic who does not agree that this is a role that needs to be in schools?
First off, you would have to be seriously out of tune with today’s society. I think it is a need for sure because although academic achievement is always a priority, there are so many soft skills that our kid’s lack and this deficit only hurts their academic performance, further causing them to become lost in a system that is often not forgiving. For example, if a child comes to school hungry, he or she may not be able to focus on the academics, so attention needs to be paid to this detail. As a Behavior Interventionist, I am not bound by some of the same ethics/boundaries that professional counselors/social workers may present with, so I am able to use my experiences as teaching opportunities, and I am the bridge between the students and their teachers and social workers. If our schools had more behavior interventionist, I believe that more teachers and mental health staff could work more efficiently because more insight would be made available.
Thinking about a student you saw the most growth from, use one word to describe what it took from you to see the change that most benefited him/her?
Explain more about what having “Heart” meant for you when dealing with this student?
I had to take A LOT of S*** from this kid! A lot. But what allowed me to make it through the tough times and not give up on him was having a heart. My heart is so deeply involved in this work that giving up has never been an option. And to now see this young man enrolled in college while studying nursing is just the cherry on top. I can honestly say that he taught me that my work matters; he has helped me to fulfill my purpose. And this is just one of many happy endings for me. Yes, the work is hard, but it HAS to be done.
Years from now, what do you want your legacy to be? How will students remember Ms. Jackson?
This is not a job for someone just looking for a paycheck or weekends and summers off. The passion, the vulnerability, and the sacrifice that I make and have made for all these years are what I hope my kids remember about me. And it doesn’t stop at the kids. It is my hope that parents and the school staff that I have worked with were also left with a lasting impression on how to work with kids that most others don’t want to work with or may simply look over because of the challenges they present. I have become a better human being in the process of this all. And for that, I am thankful to all who have trusted me.