Wynter Pitts is a first-grade teacher at Citizens Academy Southeast, a Title I school in Cleveland with a 97 percent Black student enrollment.

While I was in the hallway getting ready for a morning meeting, I saw a student of mine going to the wrong line. I immediately called out to him and asked if he thought that line was going to our classroom. He laughed, showing his cute dimples. As he walked to the correct line, I told him that he’s a Pitts — because when he enters the school building his last name changes to mine for eight hours until he enters his mom’s car.

When my students enter my classroom, I want them to know that they are valuable to me and to each other. I aspire for them to experience a sense of belonging to a supportive team, caring family, and vibrant community. I believe their backgrounds will not create barriers, but rather strengthen their resilience so that they can function at their highest academic abilities.

I’m aware that there are a number of external factors working against Black boys and girls. However, my students deserve the very best from me to ensure that they defy all of the odds. Hence, I teach to make a difference in the lives of children who are disadvantaged. I firmly believe Cleveland has the vital resources and community leaders to execute a meaningful change in the lives of children I serve. I am committed to the cause of creating an educational experience that seeks to nurture and build upon the strengths of our most vulnerable children and their families.