As Jesse Keen Elementary’s first-ever culture ambassador, Cora Rankins is keeping one word front of mind: celebration.
“To me, being the culture ambassador means creating an environment where all cultures are celebrated, and more than that, where positivity is celebrated,” said Rankins, a provisional teacher who teaches ESE students.
PCPS’ Culture Ambassador program is a new initiative spearheaded by the district’s Office of Recruitment & Teacher Engagement. Culture ambassadors are expected to share positive news from their classroom or campus to their social media accounts at least once a month. Including Rankins, there are currently 17 volunteer culture ambassadors within the district.
PCPS Teacher Engagement Leader Jessica Solano explained that the culture ambassador program is modeled after the use of social media influencers to promote products for companies.
“In addressing the issue of district and school culture, it felt like one way to help move the needle would be for teachers themselves to be the ones sharing what is working and spreading positivity, in addition to what the district does to share good news,” Solano said.
She said teachers have a unique ability to espouse that “teaching is a great profession, and that our teachers and students are doing great things.”
In recent months, culture ambassadors have helped promote upcoming teacher seminars, how their colleagues are rising to the challenges of the COVID era, and PCPS’ Ignite Project podcast, which spotlights passionate educators.
“But the potential for culture ambassadors to positively influence perception of our district and public education in general is limitless,” Solano said.
“Our team is hoping that they’ll share the human element of teaching and give an insight to the general public, as well as other teachers, about what’s going on in our schools. With all of the negativity around education, it stands out when a teacher is proud of their job and excited to share positive elements that make the job worth it.”
In Rankins’ case, she’s using her position as culture ambassador to celebrate the diversity within her school — and to let the public know that all are welcome at Jesse Keen.
Throughout Black History Month, Rankins, who is Black, has worn traditional African garb to work. She’s also installed brightly colored bulletin boards around campus celebrating prominent African-Americans.
To add to the Black History Month celebration, she asked students and staff to wear attire representative of their backgrounds and share facts about their own cultures, whatever they might be. The school has been happy to join in, said Lisa Gill, a Jesse Keen paraprofessional and PCPS’ 2021 School-Related Employee of the Year.
“(Rankins) believes everyone should be proud of their culture,” said Gill, who recently wore a long, flowing skirt representative of her Hispanic culture to work.
“It’s creating an environment where we are united, and we show that we may be different but that we’re all bringing excellence to the table.”
Teacher Marta Martino said students are responding positively as well.
“They’re learning to accept different cultures, and that we’re all more alike than they might think,” she said.
As her role as a culture ambassador requires, Rankins has posted numerous photos of Jesse Keen’s activities on the school’s social media accounts, as well as her own.
Solano said that kind of positive content can go a long way in the recruitment and retention of teachers.
“From a recruitment standpoint, it’s a great way for interested applicants … to get a peek into our classrooms before they decide to work with us,” she said.
“From a retention standpoint, if teachers are engaged, encouraged, and supported, and feel secure in the profession they’ve chosen, they are more likely to stay with PCPS,” Solano added. “It’s our hope that teachers will see these posts and have their feelings confirmed — or positively changed — that the work they’re doing in their classrooms is making a difference, and that we can learn and grow from other teachers’ willingness to share.”
Rankins puts it another way:
“Negativity drags you down,” she said. “I love my school, coworkers, and children. Being a culture ambassador, and celebrating the diversity we have at Jesse Keen allows me to share that love with my community.”