By Ashley Whitaker
The Graduate School
AUGUSTA, GA. – While earning her Masters in Integrated Teaching of the Arts at Lesley University, Baria Jennings found herself creating curriculum and lesson plans, planning for a long-term goal that would guide much of her accomplished career.
“I really started thinking about creating a school of my own,” she said. “I’d focus on middle school students. I think those are the years where we lose them a lot of the time.”
Since completing that master’s degree, Baria has continued moving forward, first attending Augusta State University to obtain an Education Specialist with a major in Educational Leadership, and now she’s enrolled in the first cohort of the Doctorate of Education in Educational Innovation Program at Georgia Regents University. The Ed.D. is a three-year program that “prepares scholarly practitioners to respond to evolving educational systems, to advocate for solutions to problems, and to foster innovation.” Baria, who is currently working as the Assistant Principal at North Harlem Elementary, said being admitted to the program was exciting as it is in-line with her goals and ideals.
“We need leaders and teachers who are willing to think outside the box and who are meeting the changing dynamic of the classroom setting,” she said. “In terms of long-term goals, and what I want to do with educational innovation, this program is a great fit for what I want to do.”
Being a part of the first cohort amounts to a certain degree of pressure, but Baria says she and her classmates have embraced the idea of setting the standard for future cohorts.
“The cohort I’m working with, we’re pushing each other to think in ways that are less linear,” she explained. “We have people from the K-12 setting, we have people from an higher education setting, we have people from a health sciences background- so we are all putting our minds together, and our varied backgrounds together, to change education.”
In her day to day duties as an assistant vice principal, Baria faces a variety of challenges. As an educational leader, she looks at her own experiences to innovate and create curriculum where students are not only best-served, but are serving others, too.
“I come from an arts background, so I am a huge advocate for arts integration and curriculum,” she said. “I went to a performance arts high school in New York, the ‘Fame’ school. And so, integrating the arts is one of the big things that is part of my platform, as well as philanthropy and community service that branches out into global service.”
Baria is not native to Augusta, although she has family here and has lived in the area for the past nine years. When arriving in Georgia, she did experience a bit of a culture shift as a former resident of New York who attended college in Massachusetts, but she said her experiences have made her a “richer practitioner.” Before becoming assistant principal at North Harlem Elementary, she worked as a teacher in Massachusetts, Burke County in Georgia, and in Columbia County.
“Culturally, there are some differences- just regional differences,” she said. “But children are children everywhere you go, so there are some parallels in terms of child development. I’ve had the opportunity to work with a variety of demographics, which has brought a lot of richness to the work I do in education.”
As she continues on in the Ed.D. Program, Baria looks forward to focusing her goals of becoming a global ambassador for education, and putting her theories into practice. The Ed.D. Program aims to give the world scholarly practitioners, and Baria insists that is what field of education needs in order to progress to the next level.
“I want to see what this program does to change me and how it broadens my scope on education and innovation,” she said. “The things that I have in mind as the planks of my educational leadership philosophy and goals, I’m excited about being given this platform to bring those to fruition.”
Baria, like other students in the Ed.D. Program, is a working professional. In addition to her work as an assistant principal, she is also an author of children’s books that focus on the topic of empowerment, her first titled, “Girls Are Little Earthquakes.” She regularly gives back to her community through volunteer work, and has taught dance classes and camps. She has led fundraisers, as a teacher, where the proceeds go to the local children’s hospital. The giving of herself to others is yet another reason why she decided to enroll in the Ed.D. Program- she holds the belief that everything you bring to the table should be shared and she lives
“For me, wherever you go, it’s all about what you bring to it,” she said. “Your gifts are not your own. Whatever you have obtained, or inherently have as an ability or talent, that is for you to bestow upon the community at large. That’s what I’ve tried to do since I’ve been here.”