SOE Alumna Wanikka Vance (BAEd 03) is one of four 2017 Practitioner of Distinction Award winners and has served as a Chicago elementary school teacher for more than 10 years.
In 2011, Vance founded Foundations 4 adVANCEment, a P-1 school, which focuses on preparing young learners academically and socially to become college and career-minded from their earliest stages of growth and development.
While at Ole Miss, Vance had the privilege of being a student of T.P. Vinson, a late SOE professor who was honored earlier this year by being inducted into the School of Education Hall of Fame.
We recently sat down to speak with Vance about her time at UM and how she is working to change the educational landscape of Chicago and beyond.
What experience influenced you most as an Ole Miss student?
Student teaching. I did my student teaching at Bramlett Elementary School in Oxford for first grade. The students were phenomenal. I had never seen students who excelled at their rate. They were reading and writing at least one-to-two grade levels higher. It astonished me. When I went home to Chicago and started teaching, I expected my students to be able to excel at that same rate. They were the total opposite. It made me teach to a higher standard because I expected them to be like the students at Bramlett, so I started teaching that way for my Chicago students.
What attracted you to Ole Miss?
I had a full track scholarship. So, I decided to come and I loved every minute of it.
Are you still running?
No. I have a summer track team but I don’t run anymore. I train kids from ages 5 to 18.
What advice do you have for future teachers?
Teach with passion. Follow your heart. Change the face of education. Don’t go with the norm.
What have you enjoyed most during your career in education?
I have most enjoyed seeing children grow. I love taking them through the beginning steps and watching them grow into little people. I’ve always taught kindergarten and first grade, and when they first come in they are a blank slate. Then, by the end, they have gained knowledge. I love teaching the whole child and seeing them develop their own personality through academics.
What goals do you have for yourself professionally?
Right now, I have my own school. So, my goal is to be able to be a mentoring site for other early learning academies. I’m also writing my own curriculum, so I would like to have that in several other schools.
Was there a faculty member at Ole Miss that made an impact on you?
Dr. (T.P.) Vinson definitely impacted me the most. I’m so excited that Dr. Vinson is being honored as a member of the Hall of Fame. I remember being in his class. Dr. Vinson made sure I was striving to be the best. He made sure I had high expectations and he challenged me. I liked that. I find myself challenging my students in the same way. I’ve had students come back and thank me for it. I had a student who is now in college come to me and tell me that I pushed him in kindergarten for excellence and he thanked me. I look back and realize that is the same way my professors were at Ole Miss. They didn’t let me slack. Just because I was an athlete, they didn’t let me slip by. They held me accountable.
What was your favorite part about going into Dr. Vinson’s class?
I’m always up for a challenge. When I went into his classroom for the first time, I was nervous. He made sure I worked hard. He wasn’t just giving me a passing grade. I had to earn every piece of it, but I liked the challenge.
What does it mean to you personally to be recognized as a 2017 Practitioner of Distinction?
It is a great honor. I couldn’t believe it when I found out, because most of the time when you leave your alma mater, you’re just gone. For them to say that they have actually been following me professionally was a bit surprising. It is a great honor for me to know that the work I am doing is not in vain.
Read more about Vance and other SOE Practitioners of Distinction in the 2017 edition of our Education Edge Alumni Magazine.
By Kathleen Murphy and Andrew Abernathy