Eyrca Neville hated school. Although she said that teaching is “in her blood”—her mother and grandmother worked in education— she felt like she didn’t have a place at school. She was a member of the first generation in her family to attend an integrated school.
She came to Columbia in 1987 to attend MU and majored in marketing and economics with a minor in black studies. It was through those disciplines that she realized there was a direct connection between education and economic prosperity. That propelled her into teaching. She says that it took a village to get her where she is today, and now, as the principal of Douglass High School, she’s worked to create a village of her own.
What does Progress in Education mean to you?
I think in the 21st century, we have to recognize that education is more than just reading, writing, arithmetic — that it is working with the whole child. It is working with helping our citizenship get ready for that post-secondary transition. It is making sure that soft skills that aren’t necessarily measured on standardized tests are addressed. And it is really equipping our next generation to run our democracy and to be able to sustain themselves with a standard of living that provides them with humanity and dignity, and that it recognizes that we’re in support of the common good. So that conversation around education, like I said, it’s so much bigger than just the content area classes that we teach. We’re looking at producing that next generation that’s going to support our democracy and move us through the 21st century.
How do you create a village of support at Douglass?
We have a sign hanging up in the office that says, “We are not here to run schools. We are here to build confident adults.” We look at the whole child. A lot of students have self-esteem needs; they think, “I can’t.” We try to rewrite the record to “You’re smart, you’re worth it.” I had one of my babies come into my office the other day, and he had missed class. I asked him what had happened, and he told me that his cousin had died in one of the recent shootings. These murders affect kids, and we need to pay attention. We have to have a conversation about mental health, poverty and social media. We have a food pantry, a clothing closet, and I help financially when I can.
You talked about creating responsible citizens. What does a responsible citizen look like to you?
This generation feels like they have no power. We want students to sustain themselves with a livable wage they can grow from. At Douglass, we have a job fair where we invite unions and other college alternatives so they have options. S. David Mitchell from MU law comes in once a week, and we partner with Columbia College, as well. We introduce the tools for students to consider multiple perspectives and become informed voters. We have a phenomenal network in Columbia. If I see you on the street and you slow down enough, I’m going to get you in the building!