Arun Puracken
Social studies teacher Arun Puracken, who teaches at Accokeek Academy, plans to run for Prince George's County School Board. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)

For at least the past 20 years, Prince George’s County Public Schools opened its buildings for students before Labor Day, but that will change this upcoming school year with the first day on Sept. 6.

Besides parents and their children receiving a longer summer break this year, school officials also enjoyed it.

They participated in various professional development sessions and activities throughout the summer such as the seventh annual “PGCPS Back to School Fair” at Bowie Baysox Stadium on Saturday, Aug. 26. Those in attendance showcased pictures and updates on social media.

School board member Curtis Valentine posted this tweet Saturday on Twitter: “Today @pgcps distributed 10,000 backpacks donated by individuals & partners! So excited for new school yr!”

With all this enthusiasm from supporters, the second biggest school system in Maryland with more than 130,000 students faced some prior and current controversies.

Former school board member Beverly Anderson called the board “dysfunctional” in her resignation letter before she officially stepped down June 23.

The state Board of Education continues to investigate grade inflation allegations.

State Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-District 26) of Accokeek leads discussions on recommendations to revamp the school system such as voters chose the 13 school board members, versus three appointed by the county executive and another by County Council. All the recommendations would be written as proposed legislation when the Maryland General Assembly convenes in January.

Amid these disputes, three teachers spoke optimistically about the system, the students they await to teach and passion for the profession.

Angelica Brooks and Rian Reed will begin the 2017-18 school year in new buildings. Arun Puracken will not only begin his fifth year of teaching at Accokeek Academy in Accokeek, but he’ll also seek the District 9 school board seat currently occupied by Sonya Williams in next year’s election.

Music lover

Brooks, a 10-year veteran in the school system, gushes with excitement while talking about plans to use digital media to teach four choral groups at Bowie High School in Bowie inside a spacious music room with two air condition units, two in-wall speakers and a sleek, black bench.

Choral teacher Angelica Brooks poses in front a board with music notes at Bowie High School. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)

She previously taught at Benjamin Foulois Creative and Performing Arts School in Suitland, which had various instructors for piano, dance, drama and other arts-oriented programs.

“My standard of excellence and expectations for the students won’t change,” said Brooks, who resides in La Plata in neighboring Charles County. “What will be different is the students, especially for the juniors and seniors, have to get used to someone else. I’ll be like a new choir mom.”

After she graduated with dual degrees in vocal performance and media management from Bowie State University in 2001, she taught dance at two studios, voice and piano at a private music school and performed at churches throughout the Washington metropolitan area.

Because she worked several years with no benefits, she decided to enroll in the county school system’s resident teacher program. She eventually was hired in 2008 and has loved teaching ever since.

After nearly two years in the classroom, she received a master’s degree in music from Catholic University in Northwest in 2010.

Meanwhile, her students should prepare to receive tips on how to preserve their vocal chords by taking “vocal rests,” which means limited to no talking. Brooks said students can use index cards to show their peers and write phrases such as “thank you,” “I’m busy right now” and “resting my voice.”

“If you develop a good relationship with your students and clearly define your expectations, you’ll be fine,” she said. “I’ve taught nothing but music, so this is my love and I want the students to experience that, too.”

Tech Savvy

Rian Reed will begin her first full-time gig teaching high school students at Laurel High School this year. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)

Reed also enters a new building at Laurel High School which sits down the street from her home in Laurel.

The 31-year-old special education teacher will also experience her first full-time gig at a high school after spending the past three years at Charles Carroll Middle School in New Carrollton.

Reed understands her group of students require specialized instruction and services based on IEPs (Individual Education Programs), a legal document that outlines a student’s daily needs.

“I hope they see, feel and understand that the classroom is a place where they are allowed to make mistakes,” said Reed, who enters her sixth year of teaching. “Mistakes and failures don’t mean that it’s the end.”

Besides constant optimism and a cheerful disposition, she hopes her knowledge as a certified Google instructor will prevail when she incorporates modern technology in the daily lessons.

Reed plans to introduce an app she learned about this summer called “Flipgrid.” Students can upload video clips up to five minutes in length for classroom discussions, homework assignments and various projects. Their classmates can respond in similar fashion.

Reed said teachers and staff can create an in-house code through the app to leave messages “like a visual voicemail.”

She always sought to work with special needs students after she became certified in elementary and special education with a bachelor’s degree in education from Millersville University in Millersville, Pennsylvania, in 2011. She obtained a master’s degree this year in business administration from Strayer University.

To increase her digital skills, she’s pursuing a doctorate in educational technology and design from Walden University.

“Sometimes we don’t give [students] enough credit. They’re kids, but they are thinkers and learners,” she said. “They also have great ideas. When we take the time to incorporate them into the learning process, our classroom environment grows even stronger.”

Political Teacher

Puracken, 27, was encouraged to teach thanks to school board member Edward Burroughs III.

Just like Burroughs, he attended the University of Maryland Baltimore County where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in education in 2012.

One reason Puracken will run for school board stemmed from discussions that involved Accokeek Academy in Accokeek where he teachers seventh and eighth graders social studies.

The school board previously discussed four options to relieve overcrowding in the schools that included the removal of the academy’s Talented and Gifted program into another school.

In March, Puracken and about a dozen of his students spoke at a meeting about the academy’s T.A.G. program.

Talks simmered down afterward, but some are still leery lowering class sizes that affect Accokeek will resurface this upcoming school year.

“When you keep going in circles around an issue, it wastes people’s time and it negatively impacts students,” Puracken, of Brandywine, said on his decision to run for school board. “The school board needs an educator on it. Educators have a perspective with what’s going on in the public schools.”

Some of his school system ideas: ensure every student with an Accokeek zip code attend school in that jurisdiction; restructure administrative leave policy; and offer minority businesses contracts to conduct work in the schools.

With that in mind, he remains confident in the future of teaching in the school system.

“I believe with all my heart teaching is the greatest thing anybody can do,” said Puracken, who’s worked in the school system since 2013 after one year with AmeriCorps in Baltimore. “Middle school is a very [persuasive] age where [students] are young enough where their decisions can be influenced, but old enough to be cognizant of what’s happening around them. Students learn and so do we.”

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Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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