April Person of the Month: Youche Chia
Youche Chia is the school counselor and co-founder of Young Voices Academy of the Bronx, which has partnered with Turnaround for Children since it first opened in 2013. Turnaround Program Director Ronni Gambardella and Social Work Consultant Amy Greenbaum Strauss nominated Chia as “Person of the Month” for her belief in and dedication to Turnaround’s model.” Whatever systems we put in place, she embraces” they wrote, “seeing them as an opportunity to provide better services for students.”
THE 180: You’ve had a long relationship with Turnaround. How did it start?
YOUCHE CHIA: When I went to Archer [Elementary School], the principal informed me that he was working with Turnaround for Children. They were going to start with us as we started our first year…they were going to have a social emotional side, which I was going to be working closely with, and the academic side, which was going to help develop teachers.
THE 180: How did you and Principal Nadia Cruz-Perez meet?
YOUCHE CHIA: We worked [at The Museum School] for eight years. She was a literacy coach, I was a teacher and we just clicked. We would always talk about how awesome it would be for us to open up a school down the road.
THE 180: How did you found Young Voices Academy?
YOUCHE CHIA: Nadia got her administrative degree and we kind of just left it at that; she wasn’t ready to pursue opening up a school yet. But after some time, [Nadia] goes, “You know what? I think I really want to pursue opening up my own school.” So she put in a proposal just to see what happened and it was approved.
I was part of the planning committee. It was Nadia, myself, and another teacher and we basically came up with every single concept of the school…down to the name, what we wanted the school to be about and what the mission and ambition was.
THE 180: Why was it so important to include Turnaround in your first year?
YOUCHE CHIA: We wanted to make clear to the parents that, [Turnaround was] one of the entities that we had to have with us opening the school, because we value academics but also the social emotional. You can’t teach a child how to read and write if he or she is thinking about “my mom just got beat up last night” or “I didn’t have anything to eat.” We have to adjust socially and emotionally first for them to succeed academically.
THE 180: Currently Young Voices is pre-K to second grade, but each year you add an extra grade to the school, which means you’re also adding new teachers. How do you help onboard new teachers?
YOUCHE CHIA: We usually do have summer [professional development time] with the teachers. We go into the vision of the school, of helping students to develop their own voice. Within the vision, we talk about Turnaround and explain to [the teachers] that they’re not only a community resource, but they really do blend instantly with the vision of our school. So [teachers] come in with the understanding that Turnaround is not just an organization that we have in the building, it has a lot of input into what we do.
THE 180: What’s a typical day for you?
YOUCHE CHIA: There are days where I strictly have my school counselor hat on and I’m seeing kids, I’m meeting with parents, I’m doing all of that. But then within the same week, I also have to put on my unofficial administration hat and I’m dealing with a lot with the logistics of the school, with compliance, with just creating different policies and procedures for the school with the principal.
THE 180: What do you really see as the most essential thing that students need for success?
YOUCHE CHIA: They have to have a feeling of being respected…they have to have that feeling that their voices are heard.