Notes from the Dean's Desk
Dr. Linda Cliatt-Wayman’s Love of Her Students Knows No Limits: A Lesson for All Educators
Dr. Linda Cliatt-Wayman lives and works here in Philadelphia. A former high school principal, she grew up in poverty in North Philadelphia but today is a renowned education leader, committed to helping today’s young people realize their full potential and follow the same path out of poverty that has empowered her.
Her basic philosophy and her commitment to disadvantaged students should inspire all of us at Jefferson, where more and more young people from impoverished backgrounds find themselves seeking a career and a better life, both financially and in terms of their ability to give back to their community.
I posed several questions to Dr. Cliatt-Wayman and you will find her responses thought-provoking and inspiring.
After reading her observations, you can learn more about Dr. Cliatt-Wayman and her work here: principalwayman.com.
As you work with students in these challenging neighborhoods, how do you introduce them to – and foster interest in – nursing as a career? Should it be positioned as an opportunity to give back to the community once a degree is attained? Are there collaboration opportunities here involving JCN’s existing outreach to high schoolers, such as the Future Health Professionals Program? (Note: FHPP is a six-week educational and experiential program offering a certificate, to help students decide if nursing seems right for them there also is a summer step-up program for rising juniors and seniors to get them ready for the transitions to college.)
Working with students from impoverished neighborhoods where many of the high schools that they attend are rated below basic in academic performance, it is evident to me that there is much for them to learn outside the classroom to prepare for life in nursing and beyond. Many students have not been exposed to higher level science courses (Chemistry 1 and 2, Physics 1 and 2, etc.), which are best taught by highly qualified science teachers. Those teachers are in high demand and short supply, and many do not choose to work in challenging neighborhoods or schools. With that being a factual statement, lack of exposure to nursing and other medical professions are due to the incredibly limited access that students have to high-quality instructors.
As the Founder/Executive Director of CurrentlyTrending, a non-profit founded in 2018 that is
dedicated to high school dropout prevention, we begin to prepare our students for nursing, or any other field, by first getting them to realize that they must work hard, seek additional knowledge at every turn, develop study habits, enhance their reading and writing skills, and get exposure to a variety of professions through our speaker series. This allows our team to better prepare our students to enter the profession of their choice.
One of our Leadership Pillars is “LOVE”. We teach love of self, family, and community. One day, nursing may be the way that they will practice all three.
The collaboration between CurrentlyTrending and JCN’s Future Health Professionals Program would be magical for these students, bringing them outside of their comfort zones and into the world of medicine. With my staff’s knowledge of the school district of Philadelphia, access to underserved middle and high school students, and long-standing relationships with the high school principals combined with your resources and access to professionals in the medical field, this partnership would help enhance diversity in the field of nursing, while changing lives in the process.
As JCN faculty members, how do we address the special circumstances that young people from these neighborhoods bring with them (e.g., the need for a full-time job to cover tuition costs or troubles at home that make it hard to focus on their nursing education)?
JCN faculty members should never make assumptions. They should frequently assess the needs of all of their students via surveys and open conversations. Ask the students what they need in order to be successful.
At times, many young people living in poverty will not come right out and tell you the struggles in their personal lives. Many are embarrassed that they are struggling with family or money problems, for example. Therefore, the faculty should watch for signs of trouble in the home. Are they distracted? Are their grades suffering? Are they isolating themselves? Look for signs of money troubles. Are they asking to borrow materials? Are they unprepared for class? Are they withdrawn when money is mentioned? Don’t make them tell you! You may be waiting a long time and lose some good nursing candidates in the process but remember that money should never be a barrier if there is a promising nursing student. Everything should be done to make sure all candidates are successful in the program.
In addition, the JCN faculty should be sincere and heartfelt. They should simply ask every student, “What can I do to help you be successful? I know that one day you are going to make an excellent nurse and I cannot wait for the world to meet you.”
Your daily message to your students is so inspiring: "If nobody told you they loved you today, remember I do and always will!" How do you encourage other adults to set aside some of their own personal challenges in order to feel the pain and sincerely encourage their students?
At our weekly staff meeting when I was a principal, I always reminded my staff of our school vision statement: “Ending Poverty for as many students as we can through education.” I reminded them that we chose to be teachers at this place and time, and we must therefore make our time here count to enrich the lives of our students. My staff understood that life happens to all of us, and we accepted that. But we also understood that when we made the decision to be teachers in underserved communities it could be the difference between life and death for our students.
Adults like to be led by people with a vision. If that vision is articulated often and backed up with action, adults will easily put aside their own personal challenges for the greater good. I also ended each staff meeting with the same thing I said to my students, “If nobody told you they loved you today, remember I do.” If adults truly believe that you love and care for them and their needs, then they will always go the extra mile to make the vision of the organization a success.
How does your new venture sharpen your goals of leaving no child behind?
CurrentlyTrending, the non-profit that I started four years ago, focuses on getting all children out of poverty by focusing on their education. We strive to fill in all the gaps in learning that children in poverty experience. The classrooms in Philadelphia’s poorest neighborhoods are plagued with uncertified, novice, or substitute teachers; and in many cases vacant classrooms void of any teacher at all. These conditions have rendered many children that attend school every day uneducated. So, we work with young people to develop their writing skills, build their self-esteem, and give them the desire to always seek knowledge in and out of the classroom in order to help them reach their goals. The only way no child will be left behind is if all children are properly educated and make LEARNING a priority, another one of CurrentlyTrending’s major pillars.
What should be the education system’s top priorities in building on lessons learned during the pandemic about disparities in education?
Equality, Restructuring, and Love should be our top priorities. The pandemic exposed the inequalities among schools in this country. If you were rich or upper middle class, learning continued. “Learning pods” were created, in-person learning resumed, and advanced technology became normalized. For poor children, it became evident that school was the only constant in their lives. Without school, there would be no learning, no eating, and no connection with the outside world. So many poor children vanished from our classrooms over the last two years. What happened to them? We all should be concerned.
The educational system in America must be restructured. There cannot be one system for the rich and another for the poor. Equality must be the focus for schools going forward. Separate is not equal! If we truly loved all children, we would look closely at the disparities and be committed to making change happen in this country. There must be a new normal when it comes to schooling in America. Love is the only answer.
As Philadelphians, we must take action on equality, restructuring our schools to make love be the core. The children from our neediest communities are suffering; the violence from our youngest citizens is evidence of this fact and is affecting every fabric of this city.
All of the major institutions in Philadelphia must use their power and influence to reform the educational process in our city.
Are you in touch with former students? Have they become involved in your initiatives to help those who came after them?
Yes! I hear from my students all the time. And, yes, they are involved with CurrentlyTrending. One student in particular has never missed a Saturday Session in four years. She attended Rhodes and Strawberry Mansion High School where I was principal; she went on to finish college and now volunteers with me at CurrentlyTrending. I even convinced her to go into teaching. She has her own classroom and often expresses that she knows why I was so demanding of my students; she sees the injustice firsthand and is trying to do something to correct it. It makes me so very happy to pass the torch to one of my brightest and deserving students.
What advice do you have for Jefferson faculty and students for hard-to-reach individuals regarding improving their health?
Everything starts with the initial interaction. Mind your words and body language. Speak without judgment and with empathy. All human beings care about their health, even if it is not apparent that they do.
Form a connection with your words. Initiate a conversation with sincerity about the importance of quality health. Don’t make it broad, speak to their condition. This shows that you are listening and are concerned about them. People want to hear that their life matters to someone. Tell them that their life matters and that taking care of their health must be their number one priority so that they will live to see the ones who they love blossom.
Offer assistance! Give pamphlets, websites, and other resources that speak to a high quality of life. Then follow up on the conversation with a phone call.
Given the unending violence in some Philadelphia neighborhoods, what would your advice be to city and community leaders? How could JCN’s leadership and faculty help you and these leaders address these issues?
First, all city and community leaders must identify themselves as such: the leaders of this city. Violence has gotten so out of control among our young people that no one knows who the leaders are anymore. After taking their rightful place as leaders, they must reach out to all stakeholders who have made a positive difference in the youth of our city -- principals, teachers, doctors, nurses, etc. – and seek answers from them.
I believe the only way to stop the violence is to stop a new generation of perpetrators. They are getting younger and younger. We must go into every high school and juvenile facility to offer them a better opportunity. We must offer them hope for a better life.
In years past when violence broke out among high school age children, the High School Council (a body within the school system) was the first line of defense. All 61 high school principals would call a meeting to address the problems with our students, negotiate a solution, and the problems would inevitably diminish. That does not happen now, as there is no longer a Council; no longer a place for high school principals to problem solve with city leaders. There is no place for leaders of juvenile facilities, schools, recreation centers, and nonprofits to come together to offer their knowledge and solutions to the problems among young people in the city.
Those who work with young people know them best. We know the sides of them that their parents do not. Most of our young citizens living in poverty seek to be law abiding citizens, but they are lured into a life of unlawfulness. Our voices must be louder than the voices that seek to take our children down a destructive path. We must give our poorest residents hope with a roadmap to a better life. Only then will the violence end.
After leaders and proven stakeholders meet to strategize, listening sessions must begin. Whenever I had a situation in my schools that I could not handle, I turned to the students to get a solution. They always had the answers. I just had to carefully listen to each and every word they were saying, then I had to show them by direct action that their voices were heard and had a role in creating positive change in the school. You will find that the voices of young people are the guide to transformation, if you are listening close enough.
JCN’s leadership and faculty could support CurrentlyTrending’s willingness to communicate with city and community leaders, discussing these important issues in hospitals, schools, and throughout the community. They could hear first-hand what the young people are thinking and use the information to inform their practice.
You have received numerous accolades for your impressive work. How has this inspired you?
Everyone likes being recognized for their hard work! However, accolades feed the ego only for a brief moment. Accolades alone do not inspire me. I draw my inspiration from the love and support of my students and staff in the form of letters, emails, phone calls, visits, and pictures, depicting how I have helped transform their lives.
When I see my former and current students and staff applying the tools that I have taught them to make their life better and to help other children escape generational poverty, there is no greater inspiration than that. My life’s purpose is to free as many children as I can from poverty in the city of Philadelphia. Education can do just that. I am a living witness of that fact.
Any final thoughts for JCN?
I would like to thank Dr. Marino for the opportunity to share my thoughts, concerns, and ideas about Philadelphia’s neediest citizens. Her willingness to listen to a variety of voices and perspectives is a testament to her leadership. It is my prayer that my voice provides information for the faculty, staff, and students at JCN to consider when working with citizens from underserved communities everywhere. It is also my prayer that JCN never stops trying to recruit and support prospective nurses from these very same communities, understanding that it will take all of us to make them successful!
And remember, if nobody told you they loved you today, remember I do!