Woman Of The Week: Nadia L. Lopez

by:  We Rise & Shine

In the past week, a Brownsville principal and her school has been at the forefront of current news stories after the popular photo blog Humans of New York, interviewed Vidal Chastanet, an eighth grade student at Mott Hall Bridges Academy. 

Though their dialogue was short, Vidal’s words delivered a resounding message which left an impact on over a million people who read his account of an influential educator:

"Who's influenced you the most in your life?"

"My principal, Ms. Lopez."

"How has she influenced you?"

"When we get in trouble, she doesn't suspend us. She calls us to her office and explains to us how society was built down around us. And she tells us that each time somebody fails out of school, a new jail cell gets built. And one time she made every student stand up, one at a time, and she told each one of us that we matter."

This is just an introduction to a very remarkable woman, Nadia L. Lopez, the principal and founder of Mott Hall Bridges Academy in Brooklyn, NY.   Lopez began her career as an educator through the New York City Teaching Fellow after working four years at Verizon in the accounts receivables department. She served as a special education teacher in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn, before she became a founding teacher at the UA Institute of Math and Science for Young Women in 2006. Two years later she joined New Leaders for New School as a Resident Principal and completed the rigorous year-long program, which led to her serving as an Assistant Principal. In 2010, Lopez's dream manifested when she founded the Mott Hall Bridges Academy, a Brooklyn middle school, which focuses on Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM). When the academy opened its doors, there were 45 sixth graders and 4 teachers, now the school has nearly 200 scholars attending from grades 6-8.

Accoring to the school website, the academy's STEAM focus "prepares scholars to not only become independent, critical thinkers but equipped for the challenges of the 21st century. Scholars will develop the skills necessary  to succeed in college such as identifying a problem, conducting research, developing solutions, and articulating their findings through dialogues and end of term presentations and projects.” In an interview with Humans of New York Lopez explained, “This is a neighborhood that doesn’t necessarily expect much from our children, so at Mott Hall Bridges Academy we set our expectations very high. We don’t call the children ‘students,’ we call them ‘scholars.’ Our color is purple. Our scholars wear purple and so do our staff. Because purple is the color of royalty. I want my scholars to know that even if they live in a housing project, they are part of a royal lineage going back to great African kings and queens. They belong to a group of individuals who invented astronomy and math. And they belong to a group of individuals who have endured so much history and still overcome. When you tell people you’re from Brownsville, their face cringes up. But there are children here that need to know that they are expected to succeed.”

Last Thursday, creator of Humans of New York, Brandon Stanton launched a crowd fund campaign inspired by Lopez, which would go towards organizing trips for Mott Hall Bridges students to visit Harvard, as well as a summer program.  Currently, the campaign has raised over $700,000.  To donate click here.