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World | Sep 14, 2021

Jamaica-born educator Keishia Thorpe in the running for US$1-million Global Teacher Prize

/ Our Today

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Jamaican-born educator Keisha Thorpe smiles with Maryland Governor Larry Hogan during a July 28 meeting with advanced placement (AP) teachers. There, Thorpe was conferred with the Maryland Medal of Excellence. (Photo: Facebook @GovLarryHogan)

Jamaican-born educator Keishia Thorpe has been selected among the 50 finalists from across the globe vying for the annual Global Teacher Prize of US$1 million.

Founded in 2014 by the Varkey Foundation, a family foundation established to improve standards of education and raise the status and capacity of teachers throughout the world, the Global Teacher Prize serves to underline the importance of educators and that their efforts deserve to be recognized and celebrated.

The top 50 teachers were selected from 8000 applications and nominations from 121 countries across the globe.

Thorpe teaches English to 12th-grade students who are English language learners at the International High School Langley Park, Bladensburg, Maryland, a school where over 85 per cent are Hispanic students and 95 per cent identify as low-income.

Thorpe fled from poverty and violence in Jamaica as a child and encountered racism as a black immigrant in the US where she had gone on a track and field scholarship along with her twin sister, Tresha.

Her achievements as an educator are many.

Thorpe is a co-founder of US Elite International Track and Field Inc., a non-profit offering ‘at risk’ student-athletes across the globe an opportunity to use their talents as a vehicle to access scholarships to earn a college diploma debt-free.

She is also the founder of the Hope Beyond Distance Foundation and Food4Change, a programme offering support services to immigrant students and their families.

Her commitment to mentoring students – all immigrants themselves – and helping them find paths to higher education saw her named National Life Group’s ‘Lifechanger of the Year’ Grand Prize Winner for the 2018-2019 School Year, an award for teachers who inspire and go above and beyond for their students.

An educator for 16 years, Thorpe has dedicated herself to mentoring college applicants and student-athletes, as well as expanding access to subsidised testing, financial aid, and full scholarships.

In an exclusive interview with Our Today, she said that being nominated for the prize is humbling.

“As a teacher, going above and beyond for my students is not novel for me.  I tell myself that I am the teacher I want my daughter to have.  So, I treat my students with that love, sometimes tough love, and a high level of care and value,” she said.

“I strive to live up to Rita Pierson’s aspiration for students that, “Every child deserves a champion, an adult, who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and insists that they become the best they can be.

“So to be recognized for the work I do with students and student-athletes across the globe, both in the classroom and through my non-profit is humbling,” Thorpe told Our Today.

“I am a great advocate for immigrant students because I can relate to their experiences.  Every platform gives me an opportunity to tell their stories that have been buried in their struggles, their fears, their shame, and sometimes because of censorship.  So, to be selected by the Varkey Foundation as one of the top 50 finalists for the Global Teachers Prize is an honour.  All the finalists, our stories are so similar and students are the centre of it all.”

(Photo: Facebook @GovLarryHogan)

Thorpe’s sterling advocacy was recognised in July by Governor of Maryland Larry Hogan, who presented her with that state’s Medal of Excellence.

As a Maryland state Advanced Placement (AP) Advocate for the College Board, Thorpe advocated for the governor to provide education funding for low-income students to have the ability to take Advanced Placement courses that will make them as competitive as their white counterparts to enter into college and have access to various scholarship opportunities.

“This is important to me because I believe in the transformative power of education, especially for Black and Hispanic students,” she said.

“Having the Governor agree to allocate funding, tells me that he sees the need for more equity in the education system.  Additionally, for him to recognize me and the two other advocates, was very rewarding.  It made me feel like I have just won one more race for students.  We had no expectations of being rewarded.  Teachers go above and beyond for students every day.  It felt great to be recognised for it.”

The winner of the Global Teacher Prize will be announced in December.

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