By Kate Helm
Whether in the classroom at Broome Street Academy in New York City or on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia, Danielle Bero ’07 is never without one accessory—a bracelet an Easton child made for her while participating in Lafayette’s Kids in the Community (KIC) program. It reminds her of what is important and who matters.
What is and has always been important to Bero is social justice. So important that she created her own major at Lafayette called creative media and social justice. Discovering who matters occurred when she worked as a KIC volunteer through the Landis Community Outreach Center. As KIC grew, Bero realized the programming could no longer accommodate children spanning ages 6 to 17, so she started a spinoff program called Teens in the Community.
“The minute I went down the hill and met those kids, I knew that was what I wanted to do,” she says. “Back in my social justice classes, I found that the solutions to most of the problems we discussed were access and education. If I could be involved in education, I could target a lot of the issues directly.”
She began that journey by first winning a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship to work at a high school outside Jakarta, Indonesia, for a year. She taught students conversational English and helped them gain a better understanding of the United States. When she returned she began teaching English to sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders in the Bronx through Teach for America.
Bero received a master’s in secondary English education at Herbert H. Lehman College, City University of New York, and is completing a second master’s there in educational leadership/educational management.
She is a founding teacher at Broome Street Academy (BSA), a charter high school that opened in the SoHo area of Manhattan last year. The school recruits students who are homeless, in foster care, or from low-performing middle schools. Through its partnership with The Door, one of New York City’s leading youth development organizations, BSA also provides nonacademic services, including counseling, health care, creative arts, and college prep programs.
“Students in foster care or transitional housing are one of the most troubled, at-risk, and forgotten populations,” Bero says. “A school like BSA completely changes the game—and the trajectory of success—for them.”
Bero teaches creative writing, coaches the boys’ basketball team, runs a writing program, and serves on the committee that oversees the school’s unique advisory program. Each student is assigned to a small group, guided by an adviser. Bero’s creates the curriculum and lesson plans, which include team building, community service, and leadership.
Most of Bero’s students relate more closely to Jay-Z than Shakespeare, so by integrating artistic genres like hip hop and film, she gives them more confidence to express themselves. Her pupils study hip hop lyrics and culture and discuss misogyny in the music industry. They create their own 16-bar verses and choruses about topics that arise in class. The slam/spoken word unit builds on those skills.
“Hip hop can be visceral and gut-wrenching, and when I see my students have that same connection with their inner selves, it’s a beautiful moment,” says Bero, who records and performs her own work.
Bero wants to do more than teach. For instance, she wants her students to study abroad. In addition to her year in Indonesia, as an undergraduate, she mentored and taught children for a summer in Namibia and South Africa and studied in Guatemala for three weeks during an interim session.
“My trips to Indonesia have produced some of the most meaningful experiences in my life,” she says. “My first stay allowed me to grow up. I became more patient. It solidified my desire to teach. I felt the most intense homesickness and felt the most liberated. Being able to travel through Lafayette opportunities equipped me with the strength and knowledge to absorb into the culture.”
BSA will select 10 students for a cultural immersion program, in which they will study language and culture, and conduct team-building exercises. Bero will accompany them to Java, Bali, and Sumatra next spring.
“Lafayette helped me define myself and put me in a position to speak for those who didn’t have a voice,” says Bero. “If I hadn’t gone to Lafayette, many of the opportunities I have been able to take advantage of might not have existed. It provided me the very access that I try to provide to my students.”