The Karin A. Akerson Memorial Scholarship Fund is part of AU’s Elevate Scholarship Initiative.
There’s a lot to marvel at in the early years of a child’s education. Motor skills are being fine-tuned. ABCs take form as words and sentences, while one-two-three’s grow into mathematics. And awareness of the self in relation to others rapidly evolves. Learning is nothing short of metamorphic.
For Chloe Leeds, SOE/BA ’24, these childhood years are inspiring. From around the ages of four through eight, children develop core skills that will carry them through life. Whether writing their names, counting sums, or sharing a toy, kids are building the foundation for complex movement and thought.
Leeds is an elementary education major in AU’s School of Education (SOE) and a soon-to-be early educator. A recipient of the Karin A. Akerson Memorial Scholarship Fund—part of the landmark Elevate Scholarship Initiative—Leeds channels the scholarship’s namesake in her passion for student-centered education.
“One thing that draws me to working in a classroom is the direct personal connection to the students—just being able to create a community in which all students feel welcome and loved and are excited to learn,” Leeds says.
“Getting to know my students,” she continues, “seeing their growth throughout the year, seeing the relationships they built with other students, and just really making education as positive and experience as possible.”
Leeds has been working with children for much of her life. Back home in Connecticut, she has served as a substitute teacher, organized literacy tutoring, and led classes at Hebrew school. While she has worked with “newborns up to high schoolers,” Leeds is most drawn to early elementary teaching.
This interest steered Leeds to AU and SOE. With a strong elementary education program and teacher certification reciprocity with Connecticut, SOE was a clear choice.
“AU really checked all the boxes,” reflects Leeds. “In terms of [SOE], I had just heard a lot of great things about the program [and] the different courses you take in terms of learning methods—like how to teach different subjects—but also things like social justice in relation to education.”
Now in her final year, Leeds is drawing on all that she has learned as she completes the final rite of passage before certification: student-teacher placement. The Fall 2023 term sees Leeds at Amidon-Bowen Elementary School in Southwest DC.
SOE centers local communities and social equity in its mission to cultivate educational changemakers. Leeds sees a responsibility for new generations of teachers to uphold value systems that more inclusively recognize the unique life experiences of each student.
For her service-learning class last year, she worked with third graders twice a week in a DC elementary school. Similarly, she points to a course she took on anti-racist pedagogy where she analyzed themes of representation in children’s literature.
“Learning about social justice and urban education—I think they're really important, no matter where you teach and no matter what student populations you're going to teach in the future,” says Leeds. “Assigning competence to all students, backgrounds, and knowledge and really making sure to value all of our students—where they come from and their experiences—is something that's really important to me.”
Amidst the ongoing glare of political spotlights on classrooms across the country, discussions with SOE professors and classmates have made Leeds more resolute to pursue teaching. Her attention remains fixed on fostering affirming spaces where kids can be their best selves.
This idea of youth well-being runs deep for Leeds, who also serves as the Executive Director of AU’s EagleTHON. The 12-hour dance marathon is student-organized and raises over $30k annually for Children's National Hospital in DC. Part of the Children’s Miracle Network, the event and its affiliates comprise a critical fundraising pipeline for pediatric patients and their families.
For Leeds, being part of EagleTHON synthesizes her passions for community and child success.
“The dance marathon community really does bring people together,” shares Leeds. “My team that I work with [at AU] . . . and just getting to meet families from the hospital and meet other people in the DC area, people that do dance marathon at other schools—it's really been a great experience.”
Reflecting on sites of fulfillment is important for Leeds in her final undergraduate year as she distills takeaways to carry forward into graduate school and full-time teaching. Changemaking in education, in her view, hinges on promoting an ethic of thriving for both students and teachers alike. Leeds sees this idea modeled in action at SOE and AU in the form of mentorship networks and scholarships.
“Change can't wait means supporting people that are going into this field [of education],” says Leeds.
By ensuring that aspiring teachers feel affirmed in their own schooling, AU is helping to create more accessible, more uplifting classrooms nationwide.
To learn more and support the Elevate Scholarship Initiative, visit the Elevate Scholarship Initiative web page.