Bringing in their individual expertise and daily classroom experiences, Close the Gap's Board of Educators (BoE) has been a huge part of Close the Gap’s successes with serving first-generation, low-income students (FGLI) by providing hands-on guidance to Fellows and mentors during the Social Impact Fellowship and giving valuable feedback during the monthly BoE meetings. In this spotlight series, we wanted to share with you their personal stories and ‘whys’ as an educator and a board member.
Let's meet Rhonda
A high school counselor based in Santa Fe, Texas, Rhonda Price joined Close the Gap’s inaugural Board of Educators in March 2021. Sharing similar motivations, Rhonda found Close the Gap as an opportunity to give back and help first-generation, low-income students.
Rhonda decided to change careers later in life to pursue education, inspired by her own experiences and her volunteer work with a youth development organization. Rhonda taught English to high school students before becoming a high school counselor, primarily to English as a Second Language (ESL) students.
As she enters her third year as a counselor, Rhonda is dedicated to making sure that her students are getting the resources and support that they need to academically succeed.
In an interview, Rhonda opened up about her experiences as a high school counselor, and as one of Close the Gap’s Board of Educators.
What brought you to education?
RP: Kind of a few things. Growing up in a small town and knowing the same group of kids for a while, you have the haves and have-nots and I wasn’t in the have group. It was a very small community, so you kind of grew up with a label, and the teachers knew everybody. I had a really good English teacher in high school who would always treat us all as equal kids. When I got to her in high school, there were no labels for anybody. She was a big reason why I got into teaching.
I was a later student. I went back to college when I was almost thirty. And so, my kids were getting up in age and I started doing volunteer work with Camp Fire, which is like Girl Scouts. I started volunteering in groups and started teaching them. It was an easy transition into something that I actually want to do in my life, which was teaching.
What do you enjoy the most about teaching?
RP: My favorite kids were usually the misfits. They may not have fit in anywhere else. They may be the ones who come hang out in my room before school. Who comes and hangs out before school with their English teacher, you know? The ones that people have given up on.
I had several teachers that would have had the students before I got them and say that “Oh, they’d never do anything” or “Good luck with getting anything out of them.” Those students were my favorite kids because they needed something and they weren’t getting it. So, I would ask them: “What do you need? What can I help you with? What’s going to get you on track?” There were so many of those kiddos that I actually get to reach.
Now, of course, there are plenty of stories where educators couldn't reach a kid, but it’s always that hope, that you can help somebody that maybe nobody else saw something in. And, whatever success looks like to that kid, just helping them get towards that and helping them realize that there are people out there that are rooting for them.
What do you enjoy the most about counseling?
RP: This year is my favorite year in counseling so far. I really missed teaching the first couple of years. My first year as a counselor, the pandemic was still going on. It was really crazy and the kids were not on campus. It was a really tough time to transition into counseling - especially because this was a whole new career for me, even though it’s still in education. I missed having the kids. I missed having those lessons and talking to them 1-on-1.
At the end of my first year as the ESL counselor, I had all the ESL kids on my caseload. When I started, we only had 22 active kids, and now we have 70. I had one kid that was supposed to have graduated the year before, but she didn’t because she couldn’t pass her state exams. There was a lot going on. So, I got in touch with her. I was tutoring her after school. She had one half of a credit left to get and so I was helping her get that last credit. We did some projects for her state testing and things like that and she ended up getting to graduate.
I saw many other kids that were like her that I was able to help. To be honest, if I hadn’t intervened, they would not have walked across the stage. This is as much for me, as it is for them. I don’t know if they understood how proud of them I was. It was such a great feeling that I can actually see where I helped– I enjoy that connection with the students and knowing that I did something to help.
Now, in my third year of counseling, I've had some of the same kids for 3 years now. They greet me when they see me in the hall. They know who I am. So, all of those things that I miss as being a teacher, I'm finally starting to see again, while still working with students as a counselor.
What does supporting FGLI students mean to you?
RP: Most of our population is White. We are getting an increasing number of Hispanic students and are also starting to see Asian students trickling in. We’re getting kids that have diversity visas; kids who are refugees. We are starting to get more first year kiddos who just have no English language proficiency at all. Our student demographic has always been of low socioeconomic status, but now, we’re starting to get more students from diverse backgrounds, and a lot of them are from the first-generation low-income backgrounds .
Despite such fast-paced change, which sometimes unavoidably leads to culture clash, students from FGLI backgrounds are the types of students that I’ve always tried to help, even before I became a counselor.
What brought you to Close The Gap and how has your experience been as a part of our Board of Educators?
RP: When I had gotten the email, it came at a perfect time because it was right when we were coming out of the pandemic. I hadn’t volunteered. A lot of us haven’t been doing anything. I felt like this was a perfect way to transition what I like doing in class into someplace else where I can help the same type of students that I was used to working with as well.
I absolutely love working with Close the Gap. This experience helps with how I miss teaching, because I get to share what I've learned in my experience. That’s what I like to do - I like to share things that I've learned. I’m a lifelong learner.
Also, everybody is so nice and I love talking to educators and teachers from other areas . I've been in Texas my whole life but I love to travel and engage with people in other regions and areas. I enjoy working with Close the Gap and talking to teachers in different parts of the country because I get to know how different states and schools are doing different things at this time.
Do you have any advice for any future Board of Educators?
RP: It’s hard to give other educators advice because we all have our own expertise and we all have different areas that we’ve worked in. I can’t think of anything because I feel like everybody is gonna come to the table with something great to offer and I don't know that I have something more to tell them. Except for if they’re reluctant about being a part of the organization, I would say “absolutely.” Every experience I’ve had has been great. Every meeting that we have been a part of, I feel like everybody has a voice and has contributed and been a part of something that’s really growing. I’m so thankful that I got in on the ground level at this because I've seen the progress. I love seeing that kind of growth and I think it's a good thing to get involved in.
About Close the Gap Foundation
Close the Gap Foundation is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization based in Sunnyvale, California. Founded with the vision to create an equitable future without opportunity gaps for low-income youths, Close the Gap Foundation works to empower first-gen, low-income students to build lifelong confidence and reach their fullest potential. Close the Gap Foundation Close the Gap Foundation's President and co-founder, Tai Tran, has been recognized as a Forbes 30 Under 30 and LinkedIn Top Voice.
Close the Gap Foundation's flagship program, the Social Impact Fellowship, is a three-month all-expenses-paid program that helps first-generation, low-income high school students find mentors, grow their confidence, and give back. Through structured mentorship and project-based learning, Fellows work with mentors from renowned organizations like Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft, and UCSF to tackle a self-directed social impact project to pitch to a panel of industry leaders.
To learn more about Close the Gap Foundation, visit: www.closethegapfoundation.org
To learn more about our Board of Educators and Board of Directors, visit: https://www.closethegapfoundation.org/about#board
To partner with Close the Gap Foundation, inquire at: email@example.com