Ashley Huggans joined the Citizens team this year and has already seen how the culture at the school values each individual student and has tools in place to set each student up for success. She said that administrators support their students in a variety of ways, from having a focus on academics, to finding ways to truly relate to their students, to providing extra support if needed. She talked about how focusing on the whole child, even outside of the academic realm, has great benefits to the student, the school, and the community by helping each student present their best self. “That’s not something you can teach out of a textbook,” Ashley said. “It has to be authentic. It gives students a sense of self that can’t be defined from a standardized test.”
How do you help students at Citizens talk about their feelings to help eliminate conflict?
I believe in modeling – every day – up and down emotions. Throughout an eight hour period, as an adult I can go from happy to sad to tired to happy again, and I’m very upfront and honest with our students. I try to let them see that just like they have an array of emotions, adults do as well.
I hope that by modeling that behavior we can keep some of the unsafe behaviors away and find different ways to express ourselves. We limit the amount of times we have to deal with unsafe behaviors.
At Citizens, we really focus on making sure our core values of Excellence, Diversity, Authenticity, Change and Community are embedded in all we do. Which value stands out to you the most?
Authenticity has to be the most important value to me. I grew up in inner city St. Louis, and I was bused out to the suburbs. Growing up I didn’t have a teacher who could code-switch: who could go from talking about the latest rap song to talking about Shakespeare. But just having someone who could relate to me in my natural state probably would have made a huge difference for me. As a student, I didn’t get that until I was in high school.
So at Citizens, I try to bring my most authentic self to my students. I can ask, ‘what is your favorite female rapper?’ and have those conversations with my students. I’m still speaking their language, but I’m introducing them to another type of musician by telling them who my favorite female rapper is. Just having those simple and non-academic conversations makes a world of difference in how they communicate with us.
I try to be sure I’m always my most genuine self with my students, and I feel like it’s helped me build some relationships with some students who probably have a tougher exterior than most people are used to.
What do you love about being part of the Citizens team?
I think I appreciate everyone allowing me to be me. I used to work in the court system and spent a lot of time in courtrooms over the years, and to be the only black woman in a courtroom on the professional side can be isolating. You would be amazed at the number of professionals who would dismiss me by my outward appearance. I walked into Citizens and was immediately accepted for me as a person.
It makes you feel more comfortable to know that people aren’t judging you off of some superficial, made up ideas that they have of you. It gives you a sense of belonging and if we can instill that in our students, imagine what the world will be like 10-15 years from now?