A Passion for Teaching and Social Justice
Yanaiza Gallant with her students at the Lillian Feinstein Elementary School at Sackett Street in Providence
Rhode Island College alumnus Yanaiza Gallant describes teaching as a 24-hour job:
“In the evening, when you’re listening to your child read at home, you’re thinking about the child in your class who can’t read the same book, yet who’s two grades higher than your own child. After you put your child to bed, you’re planning your next lesson. You go in early to set up your lesson. You buy materials and books for the classroom. You attend professional developments and become part of subcommittees in the school. I wish the public really understood the difficult job of a teacher.”
Providence Mayor Angel Taveras understands. In 2012 he presented Gallant with the Milken Educator Award, which comes with an unrestricted payment of $25,000. He recognized that in nine years as an elementary school teacher, Gallant had achieved record success in student achievement, while working in some of the most poverty-stricken communities in Providence.
In addition, she’s trained approximately 200 tutors in the past five years for Inspiring Minds, an organization that provides educational support services and individualized help for Providence public school students.
She established the Kids Bridge program to prepare students who lack the basics for kindergarten.
She founded the Winter Science Camp to provide second-graders with hands-on science activities during their winter and spring breaks.
She’s been a reading-strategy coach for her colleagues and is a reading intervention specialist at the Lillian Feinstein Elementary School at Sackett Street in Providence.
“As a graduate of the Providence public schools, I know first-hand the importance of excellent teachers who inspire their students to love learning and to succeed in school,” said Taveras.
“She represents the best among Rhode Island teachers,” said George Caruolo, chair of the Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education.
Born in Cuba, Gallant entered the Providence school system as an English-as-a-second-language learner. Spanish was her first language.
“What gives me the most fulfillment as a teacher,” Gallant said, “is working with kids who were exactly like me when I came to America. I love telling my kids that I grew up down the street from the school they’re going to. I love telling them I went to the same middle school that their brother went to.”
To know that their teacher is an immigrant like themselves provides them with a role model and a reminder that they can also become whatever they dream, she said.
Her desire to become a teacher began at Rhode Island College, where she earned her undergraduate degrees in both social work (’98) and elementary education (’03), with certification in bilingual education.
She went on to teach second-language learners for six years at the Alfred Lima Elementary School in Providence and showed such significant gains in her students’ test scores that the school department asked her to share her teaching strategies with instructors at the Edmund Flynn Elementary School in Providence.
“I moved out of the classroom to become a reading coach of teachers at Flynn. I call it spreading the love,” she said.
To further her knowledge, Gallant returned to RIC to earn a master’s degree in reading. “Obviously, I love RIC,” she said, “because I keep coming back. Here I was coaching teachers at Flynn, while taking a course on how to be a good coach at RIC.”
After two years of teaching educators with her trademark contagious level of energy and enthusiasm, Gallant began to yearn to get back to the classroom. She chose a school targeted by the Department of Education as having the second lowest test scores in the state – the Lillian Feinstein Elementary School at Sackett Street in Providence.
Hired as a reading intervention specialist for students in grades K through five, many of whom come from homes where English is not the primary language, Gallant’s job involves collaborating with teachers on the reading needs of the students. She then takes these students out of the classroom and works with them individually.
She also conducts lengthy in-depth diagnostics on the students that provide academic as well as nonacademic data on their lives. Working in one of the most impoverished communities in the state, Gallant said the data shows that many of these students have various life issues that must be addressed before academic issues can be addressed.
“If the child is homeless, we attack that first,” she said. “We treat the whole child, not just the brain. The idea is to meet the children where they are.”
Which is one of the reasons why Gallant has “become a trusted voice within our community,” said Susan Lusi, Providence Schools Superintendent. “Her passion for children, education and social justice is inspiring.”
For Gallant, “It’s what a teacher does, going above and beyond for your kids.”