Two young, black and passionate educators – a 24-year-old college advisor at Riverview Gardens Senior High School and a 28-year-old lead teacher at William L. Clay Sr. Early Childhood Development/Parenting Center – will be honored for their work at the St. Louis American Foundation’s 2018 Salute to Excellence in Education Scholarship & Awards Gala on Saturday, September 29. Riverview’s Kurly Taylor will receive the SEMO Counselor of the Year Award, and the Clay center’s Andrea Scott will receive the PNC Early Childhood Educator of the Year Award.
‘It’s not just a job for him’
Something students recognize right away about Kurly Taylor, a college advisor at Riverview Gardens Senior High School, is that he sees them for who they are, said senior Michael Crymes.
“One of things that I most admire about Mr. Taylor is that he knows everyone’s names,” Crymes said. “That means a lot. He takes the time out of his day to get to know us. It’s not just a job for him. It’s more like a passion to do what’s best for us and to help us.”
Taylor, a University of Missouri Kansas City graduate, is a part of the Missouri College Advising Corps (MCAC), which is a two-year program for recent college graduates who want to make a difference and help students with college access programs.
Taylor said he had a MCAC advisor who he still keeps in contact with and who pushed him in the counseling direction. Being at Riverview Gardens, he said the thing that initially surprised him the most about being a counselor was what students go through on a daily basis.
“I grew up in bubble, in a privileged setting,” Taylor said. “Both of my parents have advanced degrees and had good jobs. A lot of things my students had to go through, I didn’t have to go through until maybe now.”
A lot of his students work until past midnight, Taylor said, and they provide for siblings or other family members. And many of them don’t have parents in the picture, so they don’t have someone pushing them every day. One of his passions is bridging the inequities in education. He said he goes above and beyond to make sure his families are getting access to financial aid and other resources.
“I won’t do it for them, but I will be in the passenger seat while they’re driving,” Taylor said.
It’s Taylor’s overall mindset that makes him different, Crymes said.
“He’s more like ‘I’m a person, you’re a person. You learn from me and I learn from you,’” Crymes said. “I feel like a lot of kids relate to that because a lot of kids here have problem with authority. He’s not soft. It’s a gentle push and a shove.”
‘You have to bring joy’
Early childhood teacher Andrea Scott often recites a W.E.B. Du Bois quote that goes, “Children learn more from what you are than what you teach.”
That’s why Scott does everything possible to let her passion for education shine through every day.
“I’ve learned you have to bring joy and excitement for people to learn anything,” Scott said. “It’s about you. If you’re happy positive, those little kids are going to soak it all in.”
The subject Scott is passionate about teaching is Spanish, which arose after a study abroad trip to Costa Rica during her undergrad studies at Lindenwood University. She began her teaching career at the Spanish Language Immersion School in St. Louis city at 20 and remained there for seven years. She has been teaching preschool at the William L. Clay Sr. Early Childhood Development/Parenting Center for one year. She also teaches adult courses at Harris-Stowe State University in both education and Spanish, and she tutors Chinese students in English online at night.
Scott has published three children’s books, which feature illustrations of African-American children speaking Spanish.
Her first book, “Smile Big, Dream Bigger,” came about after the Ferguson unrest started in August 2014. Although the events had an “extreme impact” on everyone at the language immersion school, Scott found that it wasn’t being talked about much in the classroom.
“So many teachers were trying to go back to teaching the basics, but it was hard when you have a 10-year-old telling you, ‘Why am I learning this? I’m going to die when I get this age,’” Scott said. “That’s heartbreaking.”
She had a corazon a corazon – or heart-to-heart moment – with her students, where they talked about life, dreams and not giving up despite what’s going on in their surrounding environment.
“I would go home and cry and write all their thoughts and what I felt,” she said.
She wanted a book that would inspire them to dream, she said. Not only has the book received awards and national recognition, but the proceeds from the book also helped to fund her students’ trip to Costa Rica in May 2016.
She earned her master’s degree in education from Missouri Baptist University and is currently pursuing a doctorate.
“I believe I’m going to be in school for the rest of my life,” Scott said. “Education saved in me in so many ways. That’s why I’m always in the classroom.”
Proceeds from the St. Louis American Foundation’s four annual Salute to Excellence events benefit community grants as well as scholarships for local minority students. In 2018 alone, the St. Louis American Foundation and its educational, corporate and individual supporters will foster a record-breaking $1 million in minority scholarships and community grants.
The 2018 Salute to Excellence in Education Scholarship & Awards Gala will be held at 6 p.m. Saturday, September 29, 2018 at the America's Center Ballroom, following a reception at 5 p.m. Tickets are on sale now. Individual tickets are $85 each/$850 table, and VIP/Corporate tickets are $1,500 table. For more information or to purchase tickets, click here or call 314-533-8000.