When AmeriCorps teacher LaDai Haywood, 24, was in high school she came across a video.
The video was a promotional video for Academy Prep Center of St. Petersburg, where she attended and now works. As she watched her fifth grade self state that she would someday return to the school to show students they could succeed.
Thirteen years later, she has done just that.
Haywood has been at Academy Prep for two years, and an AmeriCorps teacher for one. The AmeriCorps program is a part of the federal agency that is the Corporation for National and Community Service. According to their website, they strengthen communities and develop leaders through direct, team-based national and community service.
Unlike the other AmeriCorps teachers, Haywood is an alumnus of Academy Prep. She attended from 2000-2004 and graduated in the first class of girls and boys, which she calls a “historic moment.”
Located at 2301 22nd Avenue South in St. Petersburg, FL, Academy Prep admitted its first class in 1997, which was then only all boys. Girls were first admitted in 2000. The school teaches fifth through eighth grade and is structured differently from public middle schools. School runs six days a week, 11 hours a day and 11 months a year. Students also wear uniforms.
A part of being in the AmeriCorps program is living on campus with the other AmeriCorps volunteers. Although it is not required, Haywood said that it’s suggested. They all receive a monthly stipend, a biweekly food allowance and an academic scholarship at the end of the service year.
Haywood says her experience as a student before and during her time at Academy Prep was very different. She says that it was her parent’s idea for her to go there and that she doesn’t “remember having an opinion about it.”
She was a straight A student until fourth grade and says that she was “bright but I needed a challenge.”
Academy Prep gave her that challenge. If she hadn’t attended that school, Haywood says “life would be so different.”
After graduating, Haywood attended Berkeley Preparatory School in Tampa. She choose it after visiting as an 8th grader and she says she knew that’s where she wanted to go to high school.
During high school, Academy Prep has a graduate support program. Haywood says it was that coupled with Berkeley Prep’s expectation of college that pushed her to succeed and to go to the University of Central Florida.
She received her B.S. in interdisciplinary studies, with concentrations in life sciences and education. She also minored in African-American Studies.
Her love of science translated into her first job at Academy Prep, and now teaches math. But there’s more to her day than teaching.
Haywood’s day begins at 7 a.m., when she and the other AmeriCorps teachers help serve breakfast and supervise the students. She then has no class for first period, when she prepares lesson plans, helps a teacher or does administration tasks.
During second period she teaches fifth and sixth grade math, then another free period. Then come recess and lunch, where two AmeriCorps teachers serve lunch and the others supervise. A free period follows, then two wheel classes where she teaches, then an enrichment class. The day finishes with study hall, and at 6 p.m. Haywood is done.
At the end of the day, Haywood is glad she lives where she works. She says she “can just go upstairs” and vent with the other teachers.
Haywood not only gets to know her co-workers well, but her students.
Although she says the long hours take a lot out of her, working with the students can be a rewarding experience.
She feels that she has succeeded as a teacher “when you can tell that you’ve had a positive influence on the kids, when they have that lightbulb moment.”
The classroom environment also extends to enrichment activities and field trips. Haywood has taught yoga and knitting. She says that it’s a place where she can bring her hobbies and talents to the students.
On Saturdays, the students have field trips. As a student, Haywood’s favorite field trips were sailing, going to the Chihuly exhibit and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
Today, her favorite field trips have been various museums, a local science center and a beach clean-up.
And Haywood is grateful for more than just the field trips. She appreciates the new Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) lab at the school, and is glad the students are exposed to that. “Kids are going to be the future.”
As far as any changes she would make to Academy Prep, Haywood has only one suggestion. She would like to increase the amount of students from the current 94 to between 200 and 300, but would still keep the classes small.
In the future, Haywood would like to stay within the education field. She always wants to work with students but after this experience she is ready to branch out.
“I feel like I can do anything.”
Information from Academy Prep website