To teach in a particularly challenging school, it might just help to have gone through a few challenges of your own. At least, that is the case for Jody Grandier ’17, American studies. The 39-year-old single mom went from living on the streets in downtown Baltimore to teaching first grade at the city’s North Bend Elementary School.
Last spring, she was recognized by Baltimore City Schools CEO Sonja Santelises, as one of three “Amazing Teachers,” an award given after the completion of the first year teaching.
“My number one goal in my classroom is to build relationships and bonds, not just with children but with their family and the communities,” says Grandier. She does that by helping the kids get what they need, from school supplies to socks, and making sure to not be judgmental about their circumstances. After all, her understanding of some of their hardships comes from first-hand knowledge.
Grandier says that when she was 18 she moved to Baltimore with a boyfriend and “once I moved down there I ended up getting into drugs and getting into a lot of trouble and living on the street and being in a lot of abusive relationships.” After moving home and spending time in rehab she began to recover–only to discover that she was pregnant. To provide for herself and her child, she decided to turn back to a childhood dream of being a teacher.
After a few years at Howard Community College, she says, “I went to visit UMBC and I loved it. I thought the campus was really beautiful. Everybody there was so nice and I just couldn’t have asked for a better experience.” She was eventually accepted into the Sherman STEM Teacher Scholars Program. Integral to her journey at UMBC was Nicole King, associate professor and chair of the Department of American Studies, and her classes on gentrification in Baltimore. “I really enjoyed her classes. I absolutely loved it. She’s one of the best human beings I’ve ever met in my whole life, actually,” says Grandier.
Soon after graduation, she got the job at North Bend in southwest Baltimore City. Now she spends her days helping kids from the city learn and grow as she did. Field trips, lunches with the kids, and other fun moments make it rewarding, she says. That said, her job presents unique challenges.
“I definitely am in situations that would prefer not to be in. But I think that it’s part of the job and that if we all said, we don’t want to be in danger, then who would be there teaching? It has to get done. Every child deserves an education,” she says.
The education that children get is not always equal, however. Grandier has a unique perspective since her own daughter, now 10, attends a better-funded Howard County school.
“They have brand new computers, [and] when you walk in the building it’s gorgeous. They have a lot of extra activities. We don’t have a lot of that in the city,” she says, where “the buildings are pretty dilapidated, they’re not very nice and they have bugs and they’re hot or they’re cold and we can’t drink the water. I can’t imagine many parents in the county being ok with that.”
On top of that, Grandier says that her students face other obstacles, like homelessness and hunger. “I don’t really know how you can come into a classroom and learn when you’ve been up all night because your parents are fighting or you’re homeless or you’re hungry. That, to a child, has to be completely devastating.”
Grandier advocates for more mental health opportunities for city kids as well as for better funding. Given the resources and a steady stream of dedicated teachers–as well as her unflinching faith in the nature of people–she says that she has hope for the city.
“I think it’s going to be a long road and a lot more people are going to have to be informed and get involved but I definitely believe that one day Baltimore City schools will be at the top,” she says.
– Karen Stysley
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Header Image: Grandier (left) with Baltimore City Schools CEO Sonja Santelises.