Excel Middle Years Academy Teacher Expands Computer Science Curriculum
When Aatiqah Ali graduated from Delaware State University with a psychology degree, her plan was to become a sports psychologist to help athletes overcome the kind of mental stress they face in competition, just as she experienced while competing in track throughout high school and college.
After college, her career plan took a turn when she worked for the highly regarded Devereux Children’s Behavioral Health Services. Her experience with children there led her to her first teaching job at Camelot Education’s Excel Middle Years Academy, a school-of-choice program in Philadelphia that serves students, grades 6-8, who will benefit from a smaller classroom setting and wrap-around supports. Instead of acting as an intervention for students, Excel Middle Years Academy serves to prevent students from disengaging from school.
Now, after just two years as the school’s computer science teacher, she has won teacher of the year. One of Ms. Ali’s accomplishments includes expanding the computer science curriculum from focusing on students’ English and math skills, to teaching typing skills, Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and other programs.
“Most students at Excel Middle Years come from low-income families. Most don’t have a computer at home, and some of the students who do have a computer don’t have internet,” Ali said. “Some of our students come to us in 6th grade not knowing how to use a computer, so we took it upon ourselves to teach them the basic skills.”
With that lack of computer experience, Ali said it’s important to start with the basics, like keyboard skills before advancing to creating documents and presentations.
“They’re going to have to type and create PowerPoints and other major projects in high school. I want them to know how to create these projects and know exactly the right way to do it. The 6th graders start with the basics. The 7th graders work on more advanced computer skills, and in 8th grade, students conquer Excel. If we can start teaching the 8th grade students coding this year, we’ll do that as well,” Ali said.
“I have a lot of flexibility with how I teach computer science, so I’m able to meet students at their level and help them build a strong foundation before moving on to advanced skills. I create lesson plans for students as their skills progress, and this allows me to incorporate the topics they are interested in – making learning more enjoyable for them.”
But Ali has more than computer skills. She has a deep devotion to her students’ success and well-being.
“When I shifted to teaching, I found that I loved it. I love the kids,” she said. “I look forward to seeing them every day when I wake up because I know they look forward to seeing us. I want to be there to greet them in the morning. I want to be there to teach my class and see that I made a difference for them and helped them want to live a better life,” Ali said.
Ali has not missed a single day of school in her two years at Camelot.
Excel Middle Years Academy Executive Director, Sadiqa Lucas, said in addition to having a phenomenal rapport with the students, Ali is an all-around team player.
“She has a willingness to take charge and support her peers. She’s the first one to get her plans and all her job requirements done. She supports other teachers in any way she can. She is everything a director could ask for from an employee, let alone an educator,” Lucas said.
Ali stays involved with a lot of after-school activities. She runs the school’s modeling group and puts on a yearly fashion show with students. She supports the all-girls group called the Sisterhood Experience, a group that helps young women overcome the day-to-day challenges of being a female by uplifting one another. She also helps with intermural track.
“I think she is driven by not wanting to let these kids down,” Lucas said of Ali.
Ali said her style is to be as transparent as possible with her students.
“I feel that being honest and real in the classroom has helped my students accept themselves and be themselves when they’re in my classroom. You just never know what people are going through. Our kids have pretty rough lives, and I would hate for them to go through that alone,” she said.
Ali reflects about one student in particular.
“She struggled a great deal to the point where she became very frustrated and shut down. It took until the middle of the second quarter for me to get through to her, and from that point on she would sit next to me every day,” Ali continued. “We would work on her assignments together. I would work the classroom but check on her more frequently. As time went on, she needed less one-on-one attention, and by the end of the year, she could quickly put together a PowerPoint with videos and photos on her own. Now she can move on to high school with all this knowledge. That means a lot to me. I feel accomplished.”
As for her dream job as a sports psychologist, Ali said those plans will have to wait. For now, she loves the positive Excel Middle Years Academy family environment and is grateful to have been named teacher of the year.
“I’m so appreciative of the award, because I feel like it’s the most meaningful thing I’ve ever won in my life. I don’t even have the words to express how I feel about the recognition.”
Congratulations Ms. Ali!
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