Charisma Ricksy is a third-year educator and grade-level lead at Baton Rouge University Prep Elementary, a Title I school in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

My parents were privileged with choosing from many schooling options for my brother and me. As a native New Yorker, I was fortunate enough to attend a K-12 public magnet school for gifted students on the Upper East Side of New York City. It was a utopia that I may have taken for granted more than a few times while there.

It was not until the latter half of my undergraduate experience that I was exposed to the disparities in our nation’s education system. For my undergraduate honors thesis, I studied the effect of the school-to-prison pipeline on New York City children. I was astounded to learn that students attending schools less than two miles from my own were being funneled into our nation’s prison system.

I now recognize the immense privilege that I had to receive a high-quality education, and I want to extend the same opportunities to my students. I firmly believe that my students’ race does not, and should not, hinder them from achieving excellence. They are equally as deserving as any other child in our country. In fact, in my eyes, they are more deserving of a quality education because many of our students of color overcome so many challenges at such young ages.

My daily mission is to ensure that the students who are in my classroom do not become another statistic in the school-to-prison pipeline. I feel a personal responsibility to propel my students to excellence because they look like me. This is why I teach where I teach.

This post is a part of an ongoing series, called “Why I Teach Where I Teach,” which asks educators in high-need schools to share what has attracted (and kept) them in the challenging environments they’re in. They share important stories and experiences that should remind us all of the power of strong school leadership, a network of supportive colleagues, and the genuine opportunity to have a say in schoolwide decisions. Listen up! They’re teaching us.