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Meet Apryl Shackelford

Role: Lead Teacher and First Grade Team Lead

School: KIPP Sunrise Academy

KIPP Miami teacher Apryl Shackelford takes a whole-child approach to educating students in her KIPP Sunrise Academy classroom. “It only takes a minute to check in with a child and make sure they’re ok,” says Shackelford, who also deeply believes that all students should take what they learn in the classroom and apply it towards service in their communities. Learn about Apryl’s journey to KIPP Miami below.

What inspired you to become a teacher?

After college, I was a career coach for autistic students—and part of that involved working closely with their teachers. Watching how those educators interacted with children with special needs and made a difference in their lives inspired me to pursue an education career. I applied to a program that would allow me to teach in Florida while earning my certification. 

I also wanted to become the teacher I’d never had for myself. In high school, I had a teacher tell me I’d never receive a high school diploma or be successful in life. That only encouraged me to work harder. Once I realized that teaching was part of my path, I wanted to be the teacher that she should have been to me and my peers. Fast forward to 2013—and I earned the Teacher of the Year distinction for my district in Florida. 

What brought you to KIPP Miami? Tell us what it’s like to found a school. 

I came to KIPP Miami because I was ready for new challenges as an educator. I discovered that KIPP was opening a new region in Miami, and immediately reached out to the founding principal at KIPP Sunrise Academy, Leyla Bravo. I liked that KIPP set a high bar for both teachers and students—but that teachers would have autonomy in their classrooms to support their students. You have to go the extra mile here so that our community knows we’re going to be at those major events and we’re going to be there to support them even after they leave our classrooms.

When you found a school, you’re building and flying the plane at the same time. It is tough, but you also know your work won’t be in vain—every day regardless of how hard things are, our goal is to model excellence and leadership. You have these little people in front of you who are impressionable and you want to send the message that education matters from the day they enter kindergarten, to the day they go to college. 

How do you know when you’re successful in your role?

When I think about educating a child, I think about educating the whole child. It’s not just about what they can do when they’re in first grade or kindergarten—I ask, how can we apply that learning towards the community? But I get my biggest ‘bang for my buck’ when I allow students to take the lead in their learning.

In class, we alternate with different student leaders who are available to support students who may be struggling. I tell them that we’re only as strong as our weakest link—and I want them to take that attitude into their communities and into their academic journey. I tell them, “If you’re tutoring in my classroom, I want you to go read a book to another child in your neighborhood, too.” They have to carry that with them. 

It’s also amazing to witness student growth. Last year, I had an ESL student come in speaking no English. He was crying and so upset all the time, saying he couldn’t speak English and didn’t understand directions. By the end of the year, he was above target in both math and excelling as a reader—he was above grade level! It was beyond rewarding. 

What role has professional development played in your growth as a teacher?

It’s had a huge impact on me! As a new teacher in my prior role, I was so lucky to have a principal who really believed in me and supported my growth. I’ve found the same is true at KIPP Miami. I meet regularly with my manager, Wallace Mealing and our principal, Leyla Bravo, who offer their feedback often so I can improve my practice. Next year, I’ll be an assistant principal. I’ve appreciated the chance to grow my career and develop alongside KIPP Miami leaders. 

As a grade level chair, I’m responsible for ensuring that our first grade teachers feel supported in their work—and I also manage a Teacher In Residence.  I’m committed to setting up our new teachers to be successful. I always tell my teachers that kids don’t wake up in the morning with the idea that they’ll act out—some of them have struggles happening in their lives that we may not experience ourselves, like hunger. 

I want them to remember to think about the whole child—it only takes a minute to check in with a child and make sure they’re ok. That can have a huge impact on their day. It’s so important to be constantly growing —and right now, I’m working on an Ed.D in Organizational Leadership: K-12 in order to further my own practice. I also want to inspire our students to always keep learning throughout their lives!