EducationLocal

Award-Winning Math Teacher Explains Recipe for Success

D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) educator and lifelong math aficionado Ashley Kearney said she’s revealing the language of life to her students and continues to do so in a manner that strengthens their ability to reason and take on real-world situations where they can apply the lessons learned in her class.

Kearney’s guidance has proven essential for many of the young men at Ron Brown College Preparatory High School, where she has taught math since before the former middle school shuttered and reopened as DCPS’ only all-male high school.

In the eighth year of her professional journey, Kearney has renewed her commitment to helping break the barriers impeding her students’ collective progress.

“My angle in dismantling injustice is teaching math. I work at an all-male school, and the school-to-prison pipeline is real,” said the Ward 7 native and 2020 DCPS Teacher of the Year.

Last month, Kearney and other award winners received accolades and monetary prizes at the annual DCPS Standing Ovation Awards. Her award follows recognition as a D.C. finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching.

In the years leading up to these milestones, Kearney has chaired community groups centered on better outcomes for students, coached her peers during professional development sessions, and assisted DCPS’ central office with curriculum development.

In speaking about her success, she credits a pedagogy rooted in respect for students and emphasis on consistent attendance.

“Attendance is half the battle, and intergenerational mobility through math and other success can interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline,” Kearney told The Informer. “I’m teaching the youth something different. They’re more confident as mathematicians. They’re joking about and explaining math. I’m telling them they can go wherever because math is a universal language.”

Since launching her teaching career through Teach for America, Kearney has made it a point to work in communities east of the Anacostia River, often relying on her experiences in Southeast and Georgia where, during high school, she counted as the only Black and female student in her upper-level math course.

Before transitioning to the Northeast-based Ron Brown College Preparatory High School, Kearney had a stint at Anacostia Senior High School in Southeast. In these capacities, she has taught various levels of high school math and helped young people grapple with the learning gaps that made solving complex math problems difficult.

Such was the case Thursday when Kearney, her co-teacher, and nearly a dozen young men spent much of the afternoon using trigonometric functions to measure parts of a Ferris wheel. Though Kearney introduced the lesson, her students demonstrated their knowledge of special right triangles, the Pythagorean theorem, and other foundational concepts during a mostly call-and-response lecture.

The closing activity, in which the young men broke into groups, allowed for mental dexterity and camaraderie, particularly when each group presented their findings to their peers.

For Ron Brown High School student Murkil Copeland, that activity and other aspects of the Kearney classroom experience has more than convinced him of the need to finish the school day on a strong note.

“At the end of the day, I can’t wait to get to Ms. Kearney’s class. I know I will learn something,” said Murkil, an 11th grader who aspires to pursue engineering and architecture. “If she knows that I don’t get it, she coaches me. She will tell you to ask a peer before you ask her. She teaches it in a different way and walks you through the process. Even in word problems. [That’s when] she tells us reading is fundamental.”

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