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Women Who March, Part 2: Meet 5 Women of Change

Meet Erica Mariola

Founding English Teacher, Livingston Collegiate Academy

My next featured woman of change, Erica Mariola, is not surprisingly related to me.

I first met Erica 11 years ago as an adult in her twenties, already making an impact on everything she was impassioned to do and everyone she met.

And now, for the past five years, I’ve been fortunate enough to (officially) call her family. After my marriage to her father, I began referring to her, with affection, as my bonus daughter.

Since then, I’ve witnessed exceptional things that she has accomplished in her young life (so far) that deserve commendation.

To start, she earned her B.A. in Psychology from Emory University and then a decade later went on to receive a master’s in Educational Leadership & Administration from Columbia University, New York, NY. While her education has been straightforward, her career has taken an unconventional path that underscores her innate ability to affect positive change.

To know Erica is to make the impossible – possible!

In the early stage of her career, she conducted 4 years of research in a neuroscience lab. While she enjoyed that field of work, she felt there was more that she could do and impact.

This revelation served as a catalyst for change, when she accepted a teaching position with Teach For America and never looked back.

She began her teaching career working in special education for elementary students in Atlanta. She then moved up to teach general education for fifth graders in the Atlanta Public School system. In her work with these fifth graders they broke records and scores in reading and writing respectively.

It is through this difficult yet rewarding work that I saw Erica not just survive but thrive. Most of her students were children living in unimaginable conditions.

Erica with one of her students in Atlanta, Windell Carter (aka Toot)

While she couldn’t directly change their circumstances, she could and did, make the time they spent in school and after school, fun, interesting, safe, enriching and morale building.

The love and compassion she feels for her “kids,” as she warmly refers to them, is real and she demonstrates it every day. Moreover, she teaches them to demonstrate compassion and respect for each other.

She knows how labels can affect people. She cultivated a shared language whereby everyone in the classroom is referred to as “friends.”

As if the work she was doing wasn’t challenging enough, she volunteered to work on two separate occasions in Cameroon, Africa, as a surrogate mother for orphaned primates.

A true testament of Erica’s ability to positively affect change (in and out of the classroom) was formally acknowledged when she became a founding elementary teacher for KIPP in New Orleans.

It was there, serving at KIPP, that she, deservedly, earned the revered 2015 Fishman Prize for Superlative Classroom Practice.

Erica receiving the Fishman Prize for Superlative Classroom Practice

Erica found another opportunity to promote change as a teacher when she was tapped to help open a high school in New Orleans – a significant step for her in steering the triangulations of teaching and impacting high schoolers.

Each year since the founding, they have added one grade level. Currently, the high school holds 9th-11th grades. Erica has decided to remain teaching the incoming freshmen in Language Arts.

Next year, as she refers to as the “roaring twenties,” she’ll move up and teach the founding freshman class in their senior year. The Class of 2020 is in for a memorable year!

On a recent visit to NOLA, I was able to tour the magnificent building that houses Livingston Collegiate Academy. As I walked the halls and entered classrooms, it felt, to me, like more of a college than high school.

This building structure was intentionally done to embrace their mission…

“Livingston Collegiate will empower all students to graduate from college and lead the world.”

You simply can’t get more aspirational and inspirational than that!

Students and teachers alike have taken note and remarked at how much impact Erica has made on them by providing a divergent teaching approach to appeal to the varied learning styles of her students.

In 2018, Erica’s Freshman English class was recognized as the “highest performing open enrollment English I class in New Orleans.” That was an enormous accomplishment of all 100 kids passing, no one needed to go to summer school, and half of them passed with an Advanced/Mastery. 

The proudness serves as a constant reminder on Ms. Mariola’s classroom door where she posted the results and this inspirational message “This is the highest performing open enrollment English I class in the city”.

Erica’s work with the youth doesn’t stop in the classroom. She was heavily involved in encouraging the benefits of exercise through the Youth Run NOLA program a couple of years ago where she’d cheer on and run or walk alongside kids of all ages.

I look forward to seeing what the future holds for Erica and how many more lives she changes.

Like her dad has told her ever since she was a young child …she [indeed] has greatness in her bones.

Advance to the next page to read about another featured woman of change, Samella McKenzie.

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