Kindergarten Early Childhood Ed., KIPP East Community Primary New Orleans, LA
“People tell me that my kindergarteners can’t do this, but I know they can,” says Erica Mariola. “I see them do it every day.” That spirit defines her classroom, where she taps the endless energy and curiosity of her five year-olds to jumpstart their first year in school. It’s the kind of place where students aren’t just learning about shapes, but the vertices and sides of triangles, and where “counting bears” happens on ten-frames. And her students are thriving. On average, they enter Erica’s class in the 20th percentile in math according to the NWEA MAP Assessment. This year, her class ranked in the 90th percentile for Kindergarteners nationally on the same assessment and they are on track to be in the 90th percentile in terms of growth, compared with all kindergarten classes in charter schools in New Orleans.
A deep commitment to rigorous early learning isn’t the only thing that sets Erica apart; her path to teaching was unconventional. After graduating from Emory University in 2002, Erica conducted research in a neuroscience lab for four years and lived and worked in Cameroon, Africa as a surrogate mother for orphaned primates. Afterwards, she worked in development for Teach For America before joining the program herself, ultimately teaching for six years as an elementary special education teacher in Atlanta Public Schools before making the move to New Orleans as a founding teacher at KIPP East Community Primary.
Throughout her seven years as an educator, Erica’s passion for serving students with academic and behavioral special needs has remained constant. As a part of her school’s Louisiana Autism Spectrum and Related Disabilities (LASARD) team, she works tirelessly to ensure students with severe academic and behavioral needs get the resources they need to be successful. “It’s the school’s job to figure out how we can make school work for every child. It’s our responsibility,” she says. It’s one more reason why Erica has rapidly gained the love and trust of her students’ families. Her principal writes: “In the current world of education, we often throw around the idea of being a transformational teacher, but in this case, Erica has had a truly transformational impact on her students’ lives.”