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New Hammitt Elementary Leader Shifted Career Goals To Improve Diversity In Education

Baby Fold sign
Eric Stock
The Baby Fold in Normal operates Hammitt Elementary School and Hammitt Junior-Senior High School for children with emotional and behavioral disabilities.

One of Bloomington-Normal's new school administrators never planned a career in education, until she realized the industry needed more people who look like her.

Latasha Schraeder is the new principal at Hammitt Elementary in Normal and the first person of color to serve as principal at the Baby Fold. The nonprofit Baby Fold also operates a junior and senior high school in Normal for students ages 12 to 21.

Latasha Schraeder portrait
Latasha Schraeder

Hammitt Elementary is for children with emotional and behavioral disabilities.

When Schraeder graduated from high school at Peoria Notre Dame, she was on track to make her dream of being an attorney come true.

Schraeder was headed to law school after graduating from Bradley University. She was excited about her new journey, but when she entered her first class that all changed. As the professor began to introduce herself, Schraeder had an epiphany.

“I had a Black professor and it dawned on me that she was the very first Black teacher I ever had, and I was a freshman in college,” Schraeder said. “I was like that's not OK. Students of color need role models and educators that look like them.”

That moment was a sign to Schraeder that she needed to transition. Schraeder had her first child and then ran a daycare. That developed her passion for working with children. That passion led to her to pursue multiple degrees in education. She gained a doctorate in special education.

Schraeder's determination to impact the lives of children did not stop with her own education. She led a special education department as an assistant principal at Carbondale Elementary School in southern Illinois. Schraeder developed a curriculum that emphasized social and emotional learning and helped make educators more responsive to trauma. It's a concept Schraeder believes should be a focus for all schools, especially in trying times.

“Oftentimes in schools our focus is academia and how can we make the students achieve academically? In reality, best practice dictates that we're serving the whole child, and that's what makes a school better,” Schraeder said.

Schraeder said a huge part of serving the whole child is acknowledging factors behind the scenes of their lives by being trauma informed. She she said doing something about it is the biggest part.

“We can be empathetic and say, ‘Oh I'm sorry that happened to you,’ but what are we gonna do about it? Being trauma responsive means we know they had a death in the family, maybe we can partner them with a social worker or someone to help them navigate that situation,” Schraeder said. “We know they have a parent that has alcohol or drug abuse issues. How can we offer that parent some form of assistance in trying to navigate it? Things like that.”

Schraeder looks to implement a social and emotional learning curriculum at Hammitt Elementary as she takes over as principal, following former principal Melody Donnelly’s 34 years of service. Schraeder is putting those plans in place as students begin school again amid COVID-19.

The pandemic set off challenges for many educators, but Schrader said none were overwhelmingly surprising. She said behavioral changes after long periods away from an environment is something everyone can relate to, so she and her staff have prepared to take each challenge as they come.

“Just think about it. When you're on summer break and then you go back for that first week of school, you know it's a transition. It’s something you have to become reacclimated with, so it definitely was a time where we had to remind students of the expectations, reteach some expectations, and give them grace,” Schraeder said.

Schraeder said whether a child feels loved and safe at home has more effect on their behavior in school than people know.

“No wonder they're struggling academically because they're thinking about things like my stomach is growling, what am I going to eat tonight? I'm left alone with my younger siblings or I might be left alone period. It is very hard to be attentive when you have things of that nature at the back of your mind,” Schraeder said.

Schraeder said that’s why social and emotional wellness means a lot to her as an educator. She said those two elements need to be a priority for schools nationwide.

“When I go to school, I need to feel part of a family, I need to feel supported, I need to feel safe. If we're not meeting those basic needs; they're well fed, they’re well rested, and they feel safe when they go home, then that kid is not ready to learn,” she said. “We need to fill those basic needs before we expect them to be ready to learn.”

As principal of Hammitt Elementary, Schraeder said she’ll continue to walk in her purpose and see where it takes her. She said even beyond her career, she wants her personality of centering on others to be remembered.

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