For Frankford High School alum, Latoya Clay, there is a long list of accomplishments. Not only has she received three master’s degrees in science and math, statistics and secondary education, but she is the winner of a Knowles Science Teaching Foundation (KSTF) fellowship.
As a mother of three children — nine-years-old, four-years-old and 18 months — Clay has never paid for college. Searching vigorously in her graduate student handbook for awards and fellowships, Clay came across KSTF.
Among 33 other beginning high school teachers of biology, physical science and mathematics, Clay was selected for the highly competitive five-year program that invests $175,000 to each fellow to combat teacher turnover — a critical problem in education.
“We cannot improve science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education without recruiting and keeping excellent STEM teachers like Latoya in the profession,” Dr. Nicole Gillespie, KSTF’s director of Teaching Fellowships, said. “She joins a growing cadre of exceptional KSTF teachers whose knowledge, commitment and leadership are transforming math and science education from the inside.”
Janet H. and C. Harry Knowles established the KSTF in 1999 to increase the number of high-quality high school science and math teachers and to improve overall math and science education in the United States.
Taking part in professional and leadership development, learning new teaching methods and having a nationwide network of other teachers are things Clay will experience as a KSTF fellow.
“I’m excited about it. I’m excited about having this network of teachers there to help me get through times when I have low points. Knowing how to deal with it, reflect on it and talk with others who also have those problems openly without being judged, I’m excited,” Clay said.
Now living in North Carolina, Clay acknowledges that her interests in math and science came from her teachers at Frankford High School.
“I had great math teachers in high school. My math teacher pushed me, [but] I was lazy in high school. I was smart. I knew how to do all the work, but I didn’t care about the why behind math until I took calculus. AP calculus is a hard subject,” Clay said. “My teachers in high school, especially math, they’re one of the main reasons that I entered into a career in math.”
Even with having her first child at 17, Clay discussed how her teachers kept her motivated.
“My teachers didn’t let me slack off because of it. They still pushed me. It was great. Frankford was great,” Clay said.
As a former tutor at her neighborhood Boys and Girls Club, Clay said she found additional motivation and discovered a passion of teaching.
“The things that impacted my life, gave me a sense of community and always wanting to volunteer came from the Boys and Girls Club,” Clay said. “At school, teachers were great. They pushed me academically, but culturally having an awareness of myself as an African American and how I need to uplift my community came from going to the Boys and Girls Club.”
Using her high school experiences, Clay received a full scholarship to get her undergraduate degree from Clark Atlanta University. Then, she received a master of science from North Carolina State University and later completed two other master’s degree programs which were funded through scholarships.
“I’ve never paid for college ever. And I didn’t want to pay for college ever either,” Clay said. “So many people get scholarships. I always apply. And I tell [my students] I always get them. Gravitate to the people who get these awards and see what they do.”
As an educator, Clay also encourages students to become critical thinkers.
“I think the biggest thing in fostering a love of science and mathematics is making kids inquisitive — having them question why something is happening. Math and science is all about why. Why is this happening? What are the mechanics behind it? That’s what I try to foster,” Clay said.
Over the next five years, the KTSF will provide a community of support and tools for Clay to cultivate students’ interests in science and math. By using real life connections, she described her teaching style as relatable for students to see how important these subjects are in their lives.
“When I became a teacher, I always wanted to change lives and wanted to impact lives. That’s my passion. That’s what I love to do,” Clay said. “The biggest thing about [KTSF] is they want you to inquire about your teaching. They don’t want you to teach and just be okay with teaching. They’re constantly doing research and having you look at yourself to see if you’re being the best teacher you can possible be.”
Thinking long-term, Clay wants to create a community based educational center.
“My ultimate goal is to have a school of my own that’s like a community center. I could have good teachers who push the students academically. I could also have that community aspect. The students of the community can come and feel welcomed there and have a place to go after school,” Clay said.