Zoë Westlund Freedom Schools Literacy Academy Spotlight

The Freedom Schools Literacy Academy (FSLA) teaching apprentice experience is a meaningful opportunity for Black youth to be in community together and develop educator skills such as classroom setup and curriculum instruction with Black 1st to 3rd graders. This year, The Center for Black Educator Development worked with Zoë Westlund, a 2023 Freedom Schools Literacy Academy teaching apprentice in the Philadelphia region. Zoë is a rising Junior studying Elementary Education at Hampton University. Zoë shares the impact Freedom Schools Literacy Academy 2023 had on her from a Q&A with the Center for Black Educator Development.

Why did you decide to work with the Center for Black Educator Development?

I wanted to get an opportunity to work specifically with Black youth, expand my skill sets, and see the impact I could make on young people’s lives.

How has your experience as a Servant Leader Apprentice (SLA) changed your perspective on what it means to teach? What does it mean to be a Black teacher?

My experience working as a (SLA) helped me realize that teaching is multi-dimensional–you’re a part-time therapist, a mentor, a parent, etc. This experience also taught me how important it is to keep moving forward in my own personal journey of getting my degree so I can teach students that look like me.

How has your summer FSLA experience inspired or impacted your future aspirations?

My summer experience inspired me even more to go into teaching. It showed me how kids can benefit from teachers who are compassionate and empathetic and it helped me understand the importance of connecting with students as individuals, not just as a collective. I also learned that you have to understand each student’s abilities, strengths and weaknesses and use that to help them learn.

Who is your favorite Black teacher and why?

My favorite Black teacher was my 3rd grade teacher, Ms. Bandoo-Henry. She was always looking out for me because I was soft-spoken at that age and served as my main motivator to keep moving forward and advocate for myself. I believe Black teachers are so important because of the impact they make on their students such as creating safe spaces for Black students, which in return improves student learning.

Based on your experience with the Center’s programming, why is it important for Black youth to pursue a career in education?

It’s important for youth to pursue a career in education because this is the way to advance ourselves and our communities. Education is a powerful tool that Black people can use to uplift themselves and one another.

What advice do you have for Black youth who are considering Freedom Schools Literacy Academy?

Go for it! You’re going to make an impact on so many young scholars' lives and many of them can benefit from having a positive role model in their lives. Even though you do get compensated, you’re also walking away with so many invaluable experiences.

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