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For Little Girls Like Me


My first memory of school is in kindergarten.

Like most kids, I’d grown accustomed to a routine and knew it was time to go to the bus stop after “The Brady Bunch” ended. So, one day, I got up, dressed and to school on time - all by myself. You’d think there would be panic as my mother awoke and wondered where I was, but I only experienced anger followed by severe discipline.

I grew up in a rough household. Before entering foster care at 8, I lived with my drug-addicted mother, who - to say the least - had competing priorities for her time and affection. I dreaded the weekends and cherished each weekday. School for me was magical. School was a place where I transformed. I washed away feeling inadequate from my socioeconomic status by being a top student. I pursued my passions and interests without the responsibility of sharing with a little sister who looked to me as her guide and protector. I waded through the waters of scientific inquiry – hypothesizing solutions to challenges I’d encountered – and daydreamed about my future.

School became a refuge. More than just a building and far beyond the four walls of the classroom, school was a portal to other worlds; somewhere that had to be better than my life, with more to offer. Somewhere that gave me the life I deserved – a place I felt “normal.” I forgot about the stress of being separated from my biological family and feeling abandoned by my mother. School provided a promise that “stick-to-it-ness” can take me further than anyone in my immediate family.

I share my story to say this: I am so honored to wake up each day in service to families and communities. I think about that 5-year-old little girl. Though she’s created a wonderful life, how different it might have been if her school provided access to local resources or targeted interventions for families. My young self might have experienced opportunities beyond the classroom that allowed me to forge relationships with adults in industry, at local universities and within my community.

It’s these questions – service to community and a promise to my children – that wake me up each day. I know I’m blessed. I fostered a love of learning early in life that has taken me to unbelievable places where I’ve met incredible people, and equipped me with the knowledge to create change. I’m inspired each day as I recite our mission statement, thinking, “How does NMSI foster a love of learning for students furthest from opportunity?” Also, “How can we instill the importance of lifelong learning and a growth mindset in students?”

This fall, I’m starting a graduate program in Educational Leadership and Policy. I’m excited! As I transitioned from classroom teacher to administrator, I used data to predict student outcomes. As a STEM Program Director, I see how experiences outside the classroom can shift the trajectory of a student’s academic performance. With this next opportunity, I look forward to the possibility of contributing to policies that impact student outcomes, families and communities.

Off to the next lesson ….

Danielle Towns is NMSI's Manager of Strategic Innovation, with a focus on Family and Community Engagement