Inside HCZ: Kyler Morris

Kyler Morris was born and raised in Harlem, but she really found her home when she stepped inside a classroom at the Promise Academy.

As a teenager, she remembered “guys hanging at the corner by Popeye’s, selling drugs, yelling at girls. It’s like: ‘What are you doing with yourself?’ I knew I didn’t want this.”

These days, she said, Harlem has changed a lot, but “it still needs work….I feel like it’s people like me who have to put forth that effort…and it starts inside the classroom.

“Everyone always says that cliché ‘It takes a village to save a child,’” she continued, “but I honestly feel it takes that one person to make a difference in a child’s life.”

The first person in her immediate family to graduate college, Ms. Morris pursued a criminal justice degree with the intent of being a juvenile probation officer. After graduating in 2014, Morris became a student advocate in the Promise Academy I afterschool program and then helped tutor children as the State exams approached. PAI Middle School principal Kashif Hameed saw her potential and persuaded her to join the school staff and become a teacher. Last year she became a lead teacher for seventh-grade math and proved Mr. Hameed’s instinct right when 95 percent of her students passed the State exam.

She said the key to success in the classroom is “you build relationships with the kids. That’s the very first thing you do because if you don’t have a relationship with the kids, then you can’t teach.”

Ms. Morris talks with her students and inserts their experiences into word problems so they relate to what they are learning. She remembered sitting down with one boy whose father had died and she spoke to him about losing her own dad and how they both dealt with it. “It was just a great connection,” she said.

As important an indicator as test scores is that her students from last year still find their way back into her classroom at lunch or during afterschool and ask if they can sit with her. “So we still have that relationship,” she said. “If you can’t build a relationship you’ll lose a child fast.”

To keep students engaged, Ms. Morris makes math fun — creating competitions, having them move as much as possible and teaching each other and her. “Math is not boring,” she said. “I have to keep telling people that it’s actually fun.”

She also makes an effort to connect with families, “showing the parent we’re on the same team. Our focus is your child and we both want success for your child…[I am always] digging deep to show them that I really really do care.

“I feel like I’m part of a team that has the same mindset and mission as myself,” she said.

 “This is my passion,” she said. “Once I set foot in the classroom [I knew] that was my job, that’s what God wanted me to do.”