This month, we're highlighting Cyekeia Lee, Director of The Learning Network.
January 6, 2017
Tell us your name and title:
Cyekeia Lee – I’m the new Director of The Learning Network of Greater Kalamazoo.
What does a normal day look like for you:
Haha! Well, I moved to Kalamazoo from the east side of Michigan in November, so every day has been full of new discoveries. I start my day with coffee, and my best brainstorming comes with a full breakfast, so I like to take time for mental and nutritional energy first thing in the morning. Day to day, I’m meeting educators, school superintendents, administrative leaders at various agencies, heads of nonprofits, and building my knowledge of education in Kalamazoo. It’s a lot of meetings!
I am also doing a lot of reading and research. I’ve read about a million studies and articles about best practices at Cradle-to-Career initiatives across the country, and I’m developing a plan for The Learning Network, so yeah, so far, I haven’t had any normal days :)
Can you tell us more about what you envision for The Learning Network, especially with the collaborative nature of the organization?
Do you know the phrase “It takes a village to raise a child?” I grew up as a child that was raised by my village – grandparents, teachers, mentors, after-school program leaders, librarians, and so many others. So, what I’d ideally like to see is The Learning Network serving as the village square. We’re the hub for the entire village to get together, to share information and data so that we’re sure every child is being served, and to develop new initiatives that collaborate across sectors.
The Learning Network uses a model called Collective Impact, and I love the idea behind that. We just have to find out how best to make it work in our community.
Tell us about your background/passions – what led you to where you are now:
Broadly, my career is dedicated to removing barriers.
I spent 3 years as a Life Coach for homeless, foster care, runaway, and unaccompanied youth aged 17-21. My degree is in counseling, so I’m at my best when I’m helping people, but I really thrive when I’m working to overcome the systemic barriers that prevent young people from accessing education, jobs, and stability.
I then spent 6 years at Wayne State University as a Financial Aid officer. There, again, I got to work with low-income, first generation students who often faced additional roadblocks to completing their degree.
From Wayne State, I moved to the National Association for the Education of Homeless Youth and Children. I spent 4 years as the Director of Higher Education Initiatives, building partnerships and initiatives across 17 states to increase access to education for students from vulnerable backgrounds.
And now I’m here! The Learning Network has the potential to impact so many lives and really change the future of this city. To that end, I’m really excited to start building a more extensive network of changemakers and education leaders in Kalamazoo to ramp up our work!
How does Literacy fit into your life and work?
Literacy, to me, is not just about reading and writing, even though those two skills are most often identified with Literacy. On my wall, there’s a sunburst drawing with the work “Literacy” at the center, and colorful rays that point to health literacy, financial literacy, numeracy, tech & information literacy…
So, what I mean to say is that literacy is about preparedness. It’s about preparing all individuals to lead healthy, successful, productive, and independent lives through general literacy in basic life skills.
We want to weave literacy into all aspects of our work, whether it’s finding trends in 3rd grade reading and math scores, or studying social-emotional literacy in kids who participate in out-of-school time programs, looking at financial literacy and aid for students entering college, or with our adult learners who will need to fill out tax forms and read prescription labels.
What was your question? How does literacy fit into my life and work? It’s absolutely everywhere!
Do you have an all-time favorite book?
Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day
That kid is so persistent! It's a children's book, I know, but the message in there is relevant to everyone of all ages. You can get gum in your hair and lima beans for dinner, and everything can be the awful, but Alexander just gets through the day. I love it!
Finally, in your own words, how to do you fit into The Learning Network?
As the Director of The Learning Network, that’s a complicated question. The Learning Network strives to be hub of resources for anyone whose work or life touches education. I fit into that, because I’m working to strengthen the resources that are available to the Network. Stay tuned for more, because I’d love to organize some cross-sector learning sessions so that we can really align our goals. I’m also looking at how to make data sharing easier across sectors, since metrics are the best way to measure impact.
The only other thing I’ll say about how I or anyone else “fit” into The Learning Network is this: it’s not something that you need to fit into. If you go back to that village metaphor where the everyone comes together to raise a child, The Learning Network is the central meeting place and everyone is welcome. We want to encourage every organization, agency, and individual to feel ownership over the success of our community's learners. And it’s up to all of us together to make sure every student can reach their full learning potential.
THANKS, Cyekeia, FOR BEING PART OF OUR VERY FIRST Bookmarks and Highlights blog post!