A Profession of Saving Lives
Quanesha Medina ’17 ’19 ’20 has always wanted to save lives. That’s why she became an educator.
“Education is a profession of saving lives,” she says. “Education can completely transform your life. You can come out of one environment and, when you’re given a high quality education, it can completely change your perspective on life. It can change how you think about yourself and others.”
For the past three years, Medina has taught first grade at HOPE Christian School: Semper, one of eight schools in the HOPE network that provide a Christian, college-preparatory and character-driven education to scholars in Milwaukee and Racine. Come fall, she will teach kindergarten at HOPE: Fidelis, another Milwaukee location.
To share the transformative power of education, Medina builds strong relationships and provides for her students’ academic, personal and spiritual needs. Her holistic approach has positively impacted the lives of her scholars and their families, and her efforts were honored this year with the Neubauer Prize for Urban Teaching from the Center for Urban Education Ministries. The award recognizes excellent teachers “who are positively engaging students and building strong student relationships.”
“Winning the Neubauer Prize was one of many confirmations that I am doing what I’m called to do —saving lives through education!” says Medina. “It means that children are being impacted and lives are being transformed through Christ and a high-quality education. It means I’m a high performing teacher here in the City of Milwaukee.”
A role model for dreaming big
As an African American teacher of primarily African American children, Medina knows that calling her job life-saving isn’t hyperbole. Education is a necessary tool in the ongoing dismantling of systemic racism.
“Education completely changed my life. I want to do the same for my kids,” she says. “When I’m teaching my urban babies in the classroom, that’s what I think of. When they step foot in my classroom, they know I am going to be there for them. When we give our children the necessary skills to succeed in life, it changes them.”
Her work is also a testament to the power of representation, one of the keys that can help children unlock the door to dreaming big.
“My kids can say ‘she looks like me, and she’s doing this,’” she says.
Medina earned a bachelor’s degree from Alverno in religious studies, returning to earn her teaching license and her master’s degree in education while concurrently pursuing her principal’s license from Wisconsin Lutheran University. Someday, she wants to earn her doctorate in education from Alverno and eventually become a superintendent.
“Teachers can’t be high quality without high-quality leaders,” she says. “I just don’t want to settle. God is allowing me to go as high as I can, so that’s what I want to do. The more lives I can impact, the better.”
And she’s definitely making an impact. When schools made the leap to online learning during the pandemic, Medina and her husband, a fellow HOPE educator, marshaled the school’s resources to deliver laptops to students who needed them.
“Me, my husband and a bus driver took a crate of Chromebooks to homes that didn’t have technology. That was fun!” she says. “We got to see the kids, deliver laptops and talk to parents and let them know that we were there for them.”
Faith in action, and in academics
For Medina and her husband, much of the relationship-building with students and families takes place outside of school. They’ve taken students to church with them and attended birthday parties. They’ve been honored to serve as godparents for new arrivals to HOPE families. They pray with their students and their families through all of life’s moments — in times of grief, times of joy and times of uncertainty.
It is Medina’s faith in God, and God’s calling of her to serve, that carry her through the challenging days and long nights of being an educator.
“I would be there until 10 or 12 at night working in the classroom, organizing the classroom, designing curriculum. It’s not for the weak or faint of heart,” she says. “For me, I knew it was a calling because even when it got hard, I was able to stay.”
Medina’s vision of the best educator she can be involves incorporating faith and academics.
“I want kids to really understand their identity in Christ. At the same time, I want them to be really wise and smart and knowledgeable. As an educator, I have to make sure that I’m holding high expectations for the kids and that I’m being a good model. They need to be motivated and encouraged so that they’ll be fearless and be able to do anything.”
Instilling the confidence to succeed
Medina skillfully and creatively works to help her students meet the high expectations she sets. Last year, she noticed that her first-graders started the school year at varying levels of readiness. Some students were discouraged about reading and their ability to learn. So in addition to daily classroom instruction, she started an after-school peer tutoring program.
“I knew that they needed something beyond our classroom time,” she says. “We hired middle schoolers, and I taught them how to teach the children their letters, their sounds and how to write.”
The program was a resounding success. At the start of the school year, tests showed that 20% of the first-grade class was at grade level for reading and 30% were at grade level for math. After several months of individual tutoring, new test scores climbed to 70% for reading and 90% for math.
“They had the highest scores in our building. They were so excited. A lot of them were past the first-grade mark,” she says with pride in her students’ achievements.
Medina’s voice fills with love, and some loving laughter, when she describes the evolution of one of her first-graders into a bookworm.
“When she started first grade, she did not like reading,” she recalls. “Now, she’s reading her book while she’s playing tag. She’ll be going down the slide with that book open.”