Meet Bridget Lester: First Grade Teacher at Catalyst Public Schools

Apr 8, 2020 | Blog, Stories

Bridget and her son Jacob

My first glimpse of Catalyst Public Schools was at Monica’s Café in the heart of Silverdale. There, I met with school leaders Tatiana and Amanda to learn about their brand-new public charter school. I was exploring elementary school options for my son, Jacob.

The connection was instant. Everything they described about the school resonated with me. I was inspired by their passion, education philosophy, and chosen curriculum designed to be student-led. We bonded over shared experiences and I loved their vision. As a teacher, I know how impactful hands-on, student-led learning can be.

After our meeting, I couldn’t imagine Jacob not going there… Or me not teaching there. I had been a stay at home parent for the past two and a half years, and I was ready to reignite my calling to teach.

Born and raised in Virginia, I earned my undergraduate degree in human development at Virginia Tech. After that, I earned my master’s in teaching degree at Virginia Commonwealth University, then began my career teaching middle school math and science.

It was here that I met an 8th grader who was struggling to keep up. He couldn’t read. He was just pushed from grade level to grade level without the requisite skills to succeed. It broke my heart. I decided then that I wanted to start at the beginning – to catch and support kids at the earliest part of their learning.

My next move was to work at a low-income school, in Kindergarten through grade 3 classrooms, with children who had learning and/or social differences. I absolutely loved them and did everything I could to take them out to engage with the world around them.

This is still at the heart of my teaching: Helping children engage with the world. And this is what excites me about Catalyst.

One of the most amazing things about Catalyst is the ‘Real World’ curriculum. It’s not just learning to learn. It’s learning how you connect and fit in with your community. We get to guide children as they develop an understanding of how they interact with the world around them. It empowers kids to be citizens of the world. They can write to our Congressperson or talk to the Mayor – this gives kids a chance to understand their impact on their community.

At Catalyst, we talk about dreamers, and doers, and makers. It’s a great seed to plant when kids are little – ‘What can I do to fix the problem, to make my community better?’ We can inspire kids to know that when they grow up, they are the change and they can make change. It’s a powerful thing to give kids the ability to act on their passions. Having a generation of fixers would be amazing.

We do this through student-led learning. That’s not ‘kids running the show;’ it’s finding what each child is passionate about and using that to advance their educational journey. It’s our job to figure out how each student thrives. That might mean that I am teaching the same information three different ways.

Some kids may grasp a concept quickly. For them, I find what works and what sparked their mastery of a concept, then provide them more materials and tools to dive deeper independently. For students who struggle with one direction, I get to work with them to find different ways to approach the problem. I’ll pull out all of my teacher’s bag-o-tricks to make sure that each student gains the skills they need to advance their knowledge.

This system that Catalyst provides for teachers and students is a great equalizer. It allows us to address gaps in children’s abilities and build them up intentionally. I am passionate about removing barriers for children to make sure that they have the best access to learning possible. Nothing should limit their potential or ability.

For students who might come from more challenging background, they may have been told this is a barrier, a negative. But I don’t see it that way. What I’ve seen in charter school programs, and especially Catalyst, is that we look at a kid’s background to help motivate them, to turn those challenges into opportunities.

For instance, many of our community’s families are, like mine, from a Military background. That might mean that one parent is gone for long periods of time. This affects kids. Sometimes they can be frustrated or sad because they miss their parent. Maybe they are thrilled because they got to have a Skype with their family member overseas. We can help kids be proud of their family and to navigate those stressors by working directly with the whole family to address the unique issues that may arise. In this way, we are not only student-centered, we are family-centered.

Growing up, my father always reminded me, “Your education is something no one can ever take from you.” And that’s my drive. To give every child the inspiration and enrichment they need to gain the most from their education which will propel them through life.

I am thrilled that my family is a part of the Catalyst community. My son is the most important thing in my world. I feel great about having him start Kindergarten at Catalyst. That I get to join him and his new classmates on this journey is an honor.