Meet the inaugural class of YouCAN Advocates!
This new program helps community leaders from all over the country take their visionary ideas and turn them into lasting change at the local level through advocacy projects. Find out more about these local leaders and the plans they have for the future of education.
Toya Algarin: Philadelphia, PA
Toya is a member of the board of trustees for KIPP, serving KIPP Philadelphia Charter School, KIPP West Philadelphia Preparatory Charter School and KIPP DuBois Charter School. She received her bachelor’s degree in business administration from LaSalle University. She enjoys crocheting, playing with her grandchildren and barbecuing.
Toya’s project: Create a coalition of engaged KIPP parents that will advocate for the children, families and communities they serve by recruiting parent leaders who will collectively create a parent engagement strategy for families at KIPP.
Yaneli Almonte: Providence, RI
Yaneli is a director for the Providence YMCA. She is one of two first generation college graduates from her family, holding a bachelor’s degree in event management with a minor in psychology from Johnson and Wales University. Her two children, Yanmark and Celene, have driven her to become a passionate education advocate.
Yaneli’s project: Help parents become advocates for quality educational choices for their children by uniting them to create a community that defends their children’s future.
Maame Amoyaw: Baltimore, MD
May is a first grade teacher in Baltimore City. She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and international studies from Towson University. She is currently a master’s degree candidate in early childhood education at The Johns Hopkins University. When not advocating for her students, she loves adding movies to her animated feature DVD collection and believes she will be Disney’s first Ghanaian princess.
May’s project: Build bridges between the community leaders who make decisions about education in Baltimore City and the parents who send their children to school every day through new forums for community engagement and dialogue.
Stephanie Brant: Gaithersburg, MD
Stephanie is an elementary school principal. She holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from James Madison University and a master’s degree in educational leadership from George Mason University. When not at school, Stephanie enjoys running, cooking and reading.
Stephanie’s project: Create a parent and community school advisory board to increase engagement and advocacy modeled after the principl board developed at Stephanie's school.
Renee’ Brown: Philadelphia, PA
Renee’ is a mother of five children and a licensed practical nurse. When she is not trying to educate those in her community on advocacy, she is attending countless football and basketball games.
Renee’s project: Create a blog on education advocacy for parents focused on practical advice on how to speak for children and ensure that they are on track for college and beyond.
Tafshier Kim Cosby: Newark, NJ
Tafshier is a corporate billing supervisor for an international security company. She is also a parent advocate leader and co-facilitation trainer for the New Jersey Black Alliance for Educational Options and a member of KIPPNJ - Newark Collegiate Academy Parent Partnership. When not advocating for families, she enjoys teaching Newarkers about adopting a vegetarian lifestyle, reading and spending time with family.
Tafshier’s project: Train parents and community members to become Parent Advocate Leaders and rethink the way schools engage parent organizers.
Karyn Frink: Cumberland, RI
Karyn is an account manager and trainer in the call center at Amica Insurance and a member of the Blackstone Valley Prep Parent Advocacy Fellowship, which furthers parents’ ability to advocate for school choice. She attended the Art Institute of Boston and graduated with a degree in photography. When she isn’t busy with her middle school girls, she enjoys gardening, reading and shopping.
Karyn’s project: Provide a comprehensive online repository of special education resources for parents of scholars with learning disabilities, including a blog, parent presentations and social media toolkits.
Kesha Lee: Washington, D.C.
Kesha is a consultant and literacy advocate living in Washington’s Ward 8. Recently, she was senior director of a social enterprise focused on getting new books to kids living in under-resourced communities. She is passionate about educational equity, economic empowerment, books, comfort food, theatre arts, photography and experiencing the world.
Kesha’s project: Engage community members, literacy social services agencies and other stakeholders in a campaign that connects parents and adult learners with evidence-based reading tips in public spaces.
Robert Lin: Pawtucket, RI
Robert works on Teach For America’s Strategic Initiatives & Partnerships team, where he leads the organization’s work around STEM teacher recruitment. Prior to this role, Robert worked as a campus recruiter, instructional coach and educator based out of his home state of Rhode Island. He holds a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Chicago and a master’s degree in urban education policy from Brown University, where he was an Urban Education Fellow.
Robert’s project: Connect individual parents, students and teachers with local resource-rich neighborhood institutions like libraries and nonprofits to elevate the voices of individual leaders at the local and state level.
Shallegra Moye: Pittsburgh, PA
Shallegra is a quality analyst for a Medicaid health plan. She holds a bachelor’s degree in communications for social justice and a master’s of public health. Shallegra is deeply involved in volunteering with her local school, youth development organizations and the department of public safety. She enjoys reading, research and everything on Investigation Discovery.
Shallegra’s project: Help support a local charter school’s transformation into a more supportive school that acknowledges, addresses and provides practical interventions for children experiencing chronic trauma.
Sade Richardson: Roxboro, NC
Sade is a literacy tutor and arts advocate. While she obtained her degree in business, she has utilized her skills to develop art and youth programming. Often times, you can catch her creating, encouraging or reading.
Sade’s project: Start a conversation surrounding education policy in Person County, North Carolina and create a network of community arts and education advocates to foster and sustain improvement in the local educational landscape.
Tawanna Roebuck: Newark, NJ
Tawanna is a 20-year veteran of the New Jersey public sector, currently working in information technology. She is a lifelong resident of the city of Newark, New Jersey and a product of Newark Public Schools. She is a member of the Parent Coalition for Excellent Education and New Jersey Black Education Alliance Organization, as well as co-chair of Rise Academy Parent Partnership. Her favorite pastimes are reading, cooking and traveling.
Tawanna’s project: Increase voter turnout by building a local grassroots committee that will go door-to-door and school-to-school to remind and educate neighbors and community stakeholders about the importance of voting.
Sumair Sheikh: Duluth, MN
Sumair is an integration specialist with Duluth Public Schools where he develops and coordinates programs aimed to decrease the achievement gap while helping students better understand their postsecondary options. He holds a bachelor's degree in biology from Michigan State University and a master's in advocacy and political leadership from the University of Minnesota. Sumair spends his free time volunteering for local campaigns, playing basketball and volleyball and exploring the north shore of Lake Superior.
Sumair’s project: Foster innovative teaching methods and encourage professional growth by pairing student teachers with the best fitting mentor teachers through the creation of a match system within a community-wide education career pathway.
Gisele Shorter: New York, NY
Gisele is the vice president/executive director for New York and New Jersey at Turnaround. Prior to joining Turnaround, Gisele was a founding member of the ROADS charter high schools executive leadership team. Gisele earned her doctorate from Columbia University Teachers College, department of health and behavioral studies.
Gisele's project: Initiate a targeted campaign to establish a shared identity, vision and voice for African-American philanthropists to harness political power, set a policy agenda and ensure a sustainable funding stream.
Jaclyn Smith: Washington, D.C.
Jaclyn is the director of alumni leadership at Teach For America and has worked as a classroom teacher and director of community engagement at Lighthouse Academies Public Charter School in Washington D.C. and with the D.C. Public Schools Office of Human Captial. She holds a bachelor’s degree in mass communication and journalism from the University of Utah and a master’s degree in elementary education and public policy from the University of Missouri.
Jaclyn’s project: Elevate teacher voices and ensure broad representation in the D.C. education policy landscape through the creation of a database for teachers to access current education policy bills and a student ambassador program to connect classrooms with legislators.
Abigail Swisher: Baltimore, MD
Abigail researches and writes about education policy at a think tank and civic enterprise based in Washington, D.C. In a former life, Abigail taught elementary school science and engineering in Granville County, North Carolina. She holds a certificate in middle grades education from East Carolina University and a bachelor’s in psychology from Goucher College. Abigail spends most of her free time reading novels and listening to indie pop on the MARC train.
Abigail’s project: Help Baltimoreans for Educational Equity (BEE) build collective power through targeted membership and engagement initiatives.
Jason Terrell: Charlotte, NC
Jason is the co-founder of Profound Gentlemen, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing the national percentage of male educators of color. He holds a bachelor’s degree in political science, philosophy and black studies from Furman University and a master’s degree in education from The Johns Hopkins School of Education. Jason is a hip-hop enthusiast, enjoys playing the guitar and connecting with family and close friends.
Jason’s project: Elevate the voices of black men in education and increase awareness around the impact that male educators of color have on boys of color.
Stewart Watson: Baltimore, MD
Stewart is an artist and advocate in Baltimore who has been curating and exhibiting her work and the work of local artists for over 20 years. She holds a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from The Pennsylvania State University and a master of fine art from the University of Maryland College Park.
Stewart’s project: Help successfully implement Maryland’s new charter law at the local level by pursuing changes at her community school with parents, administrators and community members.
Gail Wilson: Randallstown, MD
Gail is a counseling intern at a nonprofit that provides job readiness training to Baltimore City residents. Gail holds a bachelor’s degree in behavioral and social science with a secondary concentration in business management from the University of Maryland University College. She is currently completing her internship for a master’s degree in licensed professional counseling from Liberty University. In her spare time, Gail escapes to the fictional world of The Chosen, a middle grade adventure novel she is writing.
Gail’s project: Raise awareness of the valuable contribution school counselors and paraprofessionals make to education reform.
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