Democracy Prep at the Agassi Campus Elementary School (DPACES) Principal Crystal Jones has a saying she uses to remind her team of their daily purpose: “Don’t let scholars walk out of your classroom the same way they walked in.”
The learning scholars do at DPACES isn’t just academic. Mrs. Jones has created a school culture that emphasizes all types of scholar advancement. Mrs. Jones’ mantra is, “Growth matters most.”
“One of the rewarding parts of my job is seeing growth,” Mrs. Jones said. “That could be academic growth, behavioral growth, or social growth. Whatever it is, your job here every day is to make sure that you’re changing the path of our scholars. My reward is seeing that.”
The story of a current first grader illustrates the type of progress Mrs. Jones encourages. Recently, this scholar had a breakthrough that made her beam with pride.
“This scholar is the most energetic person I’ve met in my life at 7 o’clock in the morning,” Mrs. Jones said. “Recently, I walked into his classroom, and he told me, ‘You know what, Mrs. Jones, I’m learning to be DREAMy. I must have discipline. It’s when I can focus in just one area of what I’m doing at that moment in time.’”
For Mrs. Jones, the personal development of this scholar is a real-life example of her mantra.
“This is a scholar that I may have to chase down the hall sometimes,” Mrs. Jones said. “For him to be able to say, ‘I’m going to sit in my seat, and I’m going to focus,’ it was the most rewarding thing ever. Our scholars being able to be reflective and independent is the best part of my job.”
Mrs. Jones’ greatest hope is that the scholars who attend DPACES will take what they learn in the classroom and apply those skills in their communities in a meaningful way.
“I think about educating the entire child,” Mrs. Jones said. “I want them to take the things they are learning everyday in school and be global citizens in our community.”
Mrs. Jones is deeply passionate about Democracy Prep’s effort to prepare scholars to change the world. She wants scholars to develop the skills they need to be leaders in their community. In her eyes, everything they learn in school, academic or otherwise, is preparing them for their role as leaders.
“Whatever they are learning in school, it should be a life skill that they can use to change the world,” Mrs. Jones said. “Even if they’re learning about respect. When you respect others out in the world, you’re setting an example for everyone, and that’s something you can use to change the world. Those are the kinds of life skills I want our scholars to have.”
Mrs. Jones believes it’s crucial to put relevant role models in front of her scholars to show them what is possible for their future.
“There are so many odds that are stacked against the scholars we serve in our community that it is hard for them to see success,” Mrs. Jones said. “It’s a very dim picture when it comes to them believing that they can actually make it out of this community and do whatever they want to do. My hope is that I continue to put real life role models in front of them that look like them, went through struggles, made it out, and are successful right now, so that they believe they can do it too.”
Mrs. Jones understands the significance of her own position as a role model for her scholars. Becoming a principal was not an accident or a coincidence, but rather the result of getting an education and years of hard work.
“I want the kids to understand that Mrs. Jones did not wake up as Principal Mrs. Jones. This took a lot of hard work and a lot of dedication for me to get to this level where I can say that I am a role model that stands in front of kids every day.”
As a black woman, Mrs. Jones says she needs to work even harder to make the same professional gains as someone else, but still believes that all women can achieve what they want with perseverance.
“As women, we always have to be ten times better. I know I have to be ten times better than my male counterpart, with me being the only woman and then me being the only black woman,” she said. “The struggle is real for us, but as women we can do whatever we want to do and be whatever we want to be. But the hard work, dedication and commitment is something that we cannot take shortcuts in.”