As popular as it may be right now to “support” your favorite non-profit org, we must not ignore that real change is not achieved by attending fundraisers and simply raising money. After the raffles have ended, the cause is still there and the fight must continue on a daily basis. Luckily we have fighters on the front line who spearheading that change. Darla Bunting, an advocate of education, at the helm of causes such as First Book DC and Capital Cause has successfully fueled her passion for education and non-profits into a substantial platform. Currently Volunteer and Alumni Engagement Manager at College Summit and a part-time student at American University working towards a Masters in Education in Curriculum in Instruction with a focus in Education Policy and Leadership, not only is she fighting for the real issues in our communities, she’s also helping to reshape them.
Introduction + Interview by Melissa Kimble
What inspires you to create?
What many people do not realize is that doing good work is dirty. We need people who are willing to get down and dirty to be the change we all wish to see. Too many people attend the fundraising events and/or see the picture recap and believe that it is all fun. Or people see teachers smiling with their students at recess and believe that teaching and working in schools is all fun. No! The day-to-day, often mundane work we do is what actually produces those results. So what inspires me is when I get to see that hard work pay off. When I see pictures of a teacher and her class, I think of how that teacher has built those relationships through day-to-day classroom interactions because I have been there. When I am with the First Book-DC board reviewing book grant applications and we get to grant out the thousands of dollars we’ve raised or when I’m leading a Power Session with Capital Cause, those are moments that inspire me to get down and dirty again. To get in the weeds again and keep working because no matter how tedious the task, no matter how frustrating it can be to send all those emails, planning those lessons, or lead another conference call, at the end of the day it pays off. And knowing that you’re working towards making a lasting difference is what makes it all worth it.
You juggle several different major responsibilities between attending grad school, volunteering on the boards of First Book-DC & Capital Cause, and now you’re working with College Summit – all of which are important aspects of your life. How do you manage to balance them all? Are there ever times where their paths intertwine?
It may seem like I do a lot, but I know people in DC Metropolitan Area who do much more. However, that’s not my approach. What works for me is choosing quality over quantity when selecting nonprofits where I volunteer. Although, I may want to volunteer with other organizations, I know that by stretching myself too thin, I’m not truly benefiting any of them. As a result, I made a decision early on to have First Book-DC and Capital Cause as my volunteer organizations of choice. I’ve been with First Book since 2009 and Capital Cause since 2011. I support other organizations through their fundraising campaigns and events or one-day service projects, but only those two organizations receive my long-term volunteer service. I would encourage anyone who wants to make a difference to select the one or two nonprofits that they really care about and truly dedicate service to them. That’s how you can have a great impact.
Furthermore, one word has helped me to balance: Google. GMail, Google Calendar, and Google Drive have revolutionized the way we can organize our lives. Each of those programs makes it easier to coordinate schedules and work on documents with other team members. By effectively using these productivity tools, I’ve been able to juggle meetings, deadlines and order priorities in an efficient manner.
After four years of assisting with a substantial amount of change with your school system, you left the classroom because you believed you could make a bigger impact on public education outside of the school. Sometimes we overlook the importance of stepping outside of our comfort zone. What were your biggest fears during those times and how did you overcome them?
When I left the classroom, I was not sure exactly where I would go next. I knew that I wanted to stay in the field of education, but I also knew that it was time for me to gain more training in order to best prepare me for a senior leadership position in the future. My first step was to get into graduate school. Now graduate school is not the best next step for everyone—especially in this economy. However, for me, I was accepted to a program with a significant scholarship. It a great investment for a price that will ensure that I will not come out with a crushing amount of dept. Graduate school so far as been a great experience for me to research key issues at the heart of the public education reform debate so that I am extremely knowledgeable and can back up policy decisions and solutions I propose.
Moreover, I also knew that there were many places I could go after leaving the classroom: district, state or federal education level, charter schools or public schools, or the nonprofit sector. Yet, even with all of those different options in the field education, I knew that my heart was in the educational nonprofit sector. I believe that the nonprofit sector allows much innovation for young adults to come up with innovative solutions to our schools most pressing problems. Armed with my resume, I soon found out that going on interviews and selling myself was difficult because changing sectors can be challenging. I had to learn how to apply what I did in the classroom and my nonprofit board leadership experiences to the nonprofit sector. After a couple doors closed, I decided that I needed to change my approach. I created a portfolio to showcase my experience, projects that I’ve led and created, as well as visual outcomes. Employers were extremely impressed by my work and it was a great way for me to display my accomplishments.
Transitioning from the classroom to the nonprofit sector was challenging, but not impossible. It took time, but I ended up landing the perfect job that marries my love for k-12 education with my ability to be innovative in creating solutions to improve the life outcomes of children growing up in low-income and under-resourced communities.
Your life is committed to helping people growing up in poor and under-resourced communities. What is the number one thing that you want those people in those circumstances to learn and how can we apply that to everyday life?
I know you asked for one, but I want people to remember two things:
1. You are powerful: Each of us is born with different passions and talents that we can use to serve our neighborhoods and communities. Often, we lose sight of those things as life circumstances begin to cloud our youthful vision of what is attainable. By looking within and remembering our strength, we can gain confidence in our abilities to be productive citizens.
2. You are connected to someone else: In America, I’m seeing that many people have lost a sense of community. Just think how many people actually know their neighbors? How many people say hello to their neighbors? I think too many of us has forgotten that no man is an island. We don’t have to do these grand things to change the world. All we have to do is get back to the basics and speak to each other and build community. When we do this, we create a sense of unity and pride on the blocks where we live. Together we can push our society to the next level and create safer and more productive neighborhoods that are to everyone’s benefit.
You recently posted a quote that read, “You are where God wants you to be at this moment. Every experience is apart of His divine plan.” Where are you in your life at this moment?
I’m in an amazing moment in my life. I’m nearing thirty and working towards achieving professional and personal goals for myself. I used to be a workaholic. Each job that I’ve had I’ve loved, and have been extremely devoted to them. I spent countless hours after school planning and preparing for my students. I spent many weekends there, too. However, last year I made a commitment to make a conscious effort towards finding a good work-life balance. Spending time with my friends and family is a priority. Taking up hobbies and doing things I enjoy is a priority. I’ve yet to travel out of the country. So traveling is becoming a major priority of mine.
Also, learning how to take a break from working by staying off social media or putting my cell phone down is something that many people have a problem doing. I’ve learned how to unplug and enjoy what the Italians call dolce far niente or the joy of doing nothing. I know this sounds cliché, but life is to be lived. I’ve learned through experience that we cannot be so consumed with our work that we lose sight of the here and now by neglecting to enjoy the moment.
We are bombarded with stories about how school systems are failing our children but what are some positive things going on in public school reform that many may not know about?
I am really inspired by the Home Visit and Academic Parent Teacher Team movement happening in many school and districts. Chancellor Kaya Henderson has made a commitment to increasing home visits in our schools. I believe home visits give teachers an opportunity to get into the community and connect with parents and/or guardians on a level that have not been tapped into before. Home visits are when teachers are trained to visit the homes of their students for various reasons. The first visit, ideally completely prior to the start of the school year, ensures that the first interaction between parents and their child’s teacher is a positive one. During this meeting, the teacher and parents get to discuss the child’s hopes and dreams, the parents’ hopes and dreams for their child and the child’s past school experiences. Additionally, Academic Parent Teacher Team meetings are revolutionizing the way we engage parents in helping their child at home. Through three 75 minute parent meetings held at the school, teachers introduce a learning objective that parents can work with their child on at home and then give them the materials for at least two learning games that parents can play to help their child practice and master the objective. These and other ways are two innovative approaches I’ve done and seen are really meaningfully engage parents as partners in their child’s educational experience.
To Learn More About Darla + her movement:
About the Author: Melissa Kimble is not only the Founder + Creative Director of My Creative Connection, she is also an Engagement Strategist for hire through her company, The 3178 Agency. Follow her on Twitter.