Crystal Byrd is a special education teacher at Calcedeaver Elementary School in Mount Vernon, Ala., where most students are “MOWA Choctaw,” or descendants of American Indians. 

Calcedeaver Elementary School is a high-performing, Dispelling the Myth school. We call it the “best kept secret” in the Mobile County Public School System. However, it is no secret why I love teaching here. Being a part of a community that places a high importance on education, while remaining true to its rich American Indian heritage, has driven my passion to teach at Calcedeaver. This is not just a school; it is a second home to students and staff alike. The community embraces the school and encourages us through their strong faith. Community members make regalia for the Pow Wow at Culture Fest; local preachers attend and encourage the student-led “Meet You at the Pole” each year; grandparents help students in the lower grades through our Grandparents Program; the local MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians sends workers here to help support the daily operations of the school; and many of the local Choctaw residents are employed school leaders. The school culture — which sets high expectations of all employees and openly shares the vision to remain focused on achieving while nurturing the students — positively drives me to do more and to make a greater difference. I teach at Calcedeaver because this is where my heart is! The framework that makes Calcedeaver a great school is built on a passion to teach the whole child, and being a part of this framework is my way to make a positive difference in the lives of students in a community that I love.

More resources from Ed Trust

The vast majority of Native students — 93 percent — attend public schools (not Bureau of Indian Education schools). Nationally, Native student achievement in reading and math has been virtually flat. But Calcedeaver Elementary is a bright spot: In 2012, 61 percent of Calcedeaver’s sixth-graders scored at the advanced level in math on Alabama’s state assessment, as compared with only 35 percent of all sixth-graders statewide. Read more about student achievement among Native students in this brief.

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.