Varga Dedicates Life, Class Project to Narrowing Achievement Gap

Francesca Varga outside, smiling

When Francesca Varga embarked on a class project for her Ball State building level administrator (BLAD) license, she wasn’t looking for a career change.

She enjoyed teaching high school English but knew that the growing population of Latino students and non-English speaking families in her building needed to feel a stronger connection to the school community.

After countless conversations with students and families, she designed a project that would not only bridge cultures but also close the achievement gap between majority and marginalized student populations.

Project Targeted Language Gaps

Using technology in strategic ways, the class exercise would help bridge language gaps by producing a Spanish-language newsletter for families, form parent groups to encourage parent participation, and celebrate cultures and diversity in the classroom.

Not only was her Ball State project designed to help close the achievement gap, it also led to a job offer from the University of Notre Dame, where today Francesca is associate director for blended learning with the university’s Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) program.

ACE works in high-poverty Catholic schools serving underrepresented populations of students and many ELL (English language learner) students.

Part of High-Powered Learning Team

“My professors at Ball State were incredible and went above and beyond to connect with me through email and video chats,” says Francesca.

Francesca works with ACE’s Higher-Powered Learning team, leading a three-year program that guides teachers and school leaders through the “implementation of excellent and sustainable blended-learning programs” at various building sites.

She coaches teachers, building leaders, and principals on best practice, implementation of blended learning, so they can meet student learning gaps and provide student success strategies.

“The role I have now allows me to impact greater change for students in many schools as we work with schools in Minneapolis-St. Paul and Indianapolis,” says Francesca, noting that the program will soon expand to other areas.

The Classroom Children Deserve

Catholic identity drives the work of the Alliance for Catholic Education.

“Our team’s core belief is that every child is created in the image of God and deserves an education that reflects that,” she says.

Francesca thinks the BLAD licensure program has improved her instructional leadership skills, from learning how to do a thorough classroom walkthrough and evaluation to framing difficult conversations with teachers.

School Principal Class Taught Leadership

For her, Ball State’s School Principal class was a highlight of the licensure program.

“Everything was relevant to leadership, and I feel like I learned the most from that class,” she says.

“To be completely honest, I was shocked and quite overwhelmed with the first two weeks of the class. The workload was super rigorous,” she remembers. “But the instruction I received through this program was some of the best instruction I have ever received in my academic career.”

Francesca is also upbeat about Ball State’s online delivery.

Professors Kept Her Connected

“My professors at Ball State were incredible and went above and beyond to connect with me through email and video chats,” she says.

During her program, Francesca was teaching, raising a toddler, and pregnant with her second child. Email and video chats were perfect.

 

 

 

EdD student gives love, hope, and leadership to today’s school children

Had teachers, coaches, and mentors not rallied around him, Brian Dinkins might not have graduated from high school on time to play out a football scholarship to Purdue University, where he played four winning seasons, including a trip to the Rose Bowl, with a teammate named Drew Brees.

Despite the bachelor’s degree on his résumé, Brian returned home to where his mother raised him, one of the most dangerous neighborhoods and impoverished school systems in Indianapolis. Lack of a job soon meant lack of a home. That’s when a stint at substitute teaching changed his life forever.

His Opportunity to Make an Impact

“I saw an opportunity to have an impact so I invested in education so I could teach,” says Brian, who also became interested in leadership and pursued a master’s in educational administration.

Over the next several years, he taught special education and filled multiple positions as principal, athletic director, and dean of students.

In 2010, Brian became principal at Imagine Life Sciences East charter school in his old neighborhood.

“I had gone to school with the parents of a lot of the kids in my school,” says Brian. “It was an epiphany for me to realize the families were still in the neighborhood. Somewhere along the path they hadn’t connected to something that would change their experiences—or their children’s experiences.”

Children Can Become Casualties of Society

Brian is adamant about children “acquiring skills to move outside of their circumstances.”

“Otherwise they inherit broken lives as innocent casualties of society,” he says.

“I believe achieving the highest level of education is a testament that we can achieve anything we put our minds and hearts to,” he says. “This is especially important for children raised in poverty like myself to see that you can achieve every goal you set for yourself.”

Completing a doctorate in educational leadership has been Brian’s primary goal. After finishing Ball State’s specialist in education in school superintendency in 2015, he undertook the EdD in educational administration and supervision.

“TC Celebrates Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity”

Dinkins (far right) and Brees (to his right) and Boilermakers surround the 2001 Big Ten trophy.

“The EdD program has enhanced my capacity to lead with an inclusive mindset,” he says. “The Teachers College does a great job of exposing its students to best practices that encourage and celebrate diversity, inclusion, and equity.”

Brian says Ball State faculty and staff have become part of his family. He admits that he decided to quit the EdD more than once, “only to have faculty come and get me.” With his dissertation research underway, he plans to graduate in 2020.

In 2015, Brian, in his own words, “took a leap of faith” and launched an organization he calls National Institute for Child Empowerment (NICE). Through NICE, he pursues his passion for helping parents and students of disenfranchised communities with training, mentoring, and advocacy to increase their access to college, careers, and character development.

NICE Works for Students, Parents, and Teachers

“Education has empowered me to serve some of the most challenging schools in the inner city of Indianapolis and provide love, hope, and quality education to those most in need,” says Brian, whose organization provides leadership coaching, workshops for parenting, and professional development for teachers.

“It takes the commitment and excellence of every teacher, counselor, parent, and administrator to ensure that all students succeed. Education is truly the doorway to providing all students personal and professional empowerment.”

Brian says he lives by the words of abolitionist Frederick Douglass, who wrote, “It is easier to build strong children, than it is to repair broken men.”

Purdue defensive end Dinkins rushes Ohio State quarterback.

“Then Something Clicked”: How Tina Ahmadi Transitioned to Teaching

While studying the interdisciplinary biology and society major at Ivy League Cornell University in scenic Ithaca, New York, Tina Ahmadi thought she was preparing for medical school.

She liked the fact that the program merged science and the humanities and considered ethical and philosophical questions. But when she realized that medicine might not be best for her skills and interests, she suddenly found herself without career direction.

“I ended up wandering quite a bit,” says Tina, who recently completed the transition to secondary teaching program to earn her Indiana teaching license.

In Muncie, She Finds A Better Way

From Cornell, Tina returned home to Yorktown, Indiana, and became a caseworker with Muncie’s A Better Way Services, a nonprofit providing shelter and crisis intervention for victims of domestic violence.

At A Better Way she helped the children of residents with homework and enjoyed watching their reactions to the science experiments conducted by a volunteer who was a middle school science teacher.

Meanwhile, as she considered careers in clinical psychology and medical physics, Tina enrolled in Ball State’s non-degree courses in biology, chemistry, physics, and psychology.

In time, she learned about the transition to secondary teaching program.

Imagination Leads to Education

“For some reason I hadn’t considered teaching,” says Tina. “And then something clicked. I began imagining myself teaching and thinking about all the great ways that education combines human connection and empathy with science.”

The transition to secondary teaching program is an 18-credit program that can be earned online in four semesters. It includes a 16-week student teaching stint and gives students ongoing support from accomplished educators.

Tina recently finished her student teaching assignment, which became a temporary full-time position midway through the semester, at Wes-Del High School in Gaston, Indiana, where she taught math and science. She says a veteran teacher at Wes-Del checked in with her several times each day and “was generous with his time and knowledge.”

What She Learned from Levine

Jill Bradley-Levine, director of the transition to teaching program, has served as another key mentor.

“I have benefited from her comments on assignments as well as comments and suggestions she makes after watching me teach,” says Tina. “I feel like there are a lot of people looking out for me who want me to succeed, and I’ve never felt this level of support from a program before.”

One reason Tina is enthusiastic about teaching high schoolers is because she hopes to share what she’s learned about college-career transitions.

“Best Deal in the World for Me”

“I want to make sure my students explore opportunities and career paths and get to learn about their options well before college,” says Tina, “so that they can make more informed decisions about their paths.”

For her, a transition from career uncertainty to teaching high schoolers who are, in her words, “kind, brave, humorous, energetic, intelligent, and creative” was more than she could imagine.

“I am always overjoyed when I see a student grasp a challenging concept,” says Tina. “Even though I am technically the teacher, I get to learn and grow from interacting with them. It’s the best deal in the world for me.”

Begins Full Time

Having earned her license to teach at the middle and high school levels, Tina begins a full-time teaching position in fall 2019 at Pike High School in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Because the program offers the option to apply transition to teaching credits to a master’s degree, Tina will apply her 18 credits to Ball State’s master of arts in secondary education.

In what will be a full year as a new teacher and a seasoned student, Tina will finish course work for a double master’s in biology and education in 2019-20.