It's that kind of selflessness, that kind of rising above that helped Kirkland win the 2018 scholarship among applicants from 17 SUNY campuses with teacher preparation programs.
"When I decided to teach, it was mainly for one reason: To catch all the other Ashleys that were good at falling in between the cracks -- like I was," Kirkland wrote in her application for the Zimpher Scholarship, presented annually by SUNY's Association of Council Members and College Trustees in honor of the 64-campus system's former chancellor.
Among those strongly supporting Kirkland for the scholarship was Nichole Brown, her mentor and the director of the Field Placement Office for SUNY Oswego's School of Education and director and principal investigator for the college's grant-supported Teacher Opportunity Corps II program. Brown wrote a letter of recommendation for the senior, who is completing her student teaching experience in New York City.
"Over the years, I have become very impressed with Ashley's desire to maintain a constant drive to increase and diversify her knowledge and skills, as she works on her craft of being an educator," Brown wrote. "Her desire to work with young adults in urban schools stems not only from her own personal experiences and hardships, but also from her work with programs like ASET (All Sisters Evolving Together) and SIMBA (Safe in My Brother's Arms), both New York City mentoring programs that provide academic, social and life skills supports to youth living in temporary housing."
As Brown was accepting the scholarship award on her behalf Oct. 12, Kirkland was working with girls in the ASET program in Brooklyn. "I think it's really important for me to be there, because I know how it feels to have that support," Kirkland said in an interview.
Kirkland came to SUNY Oswego to major in English, and decided near the end of her sophomore year to add an adolescence education major. Early on, she had joined another mutual-support group -- the Teacher Opportunity Corps II, a New York State Education Department grant-funded program that was developed to increase the number of historically underrepresented individuals entering the teaching field, to support them and to retain them as teachers in urban schools.
The college's School of Education was awarded $325,000 per year for five years through the state's My Brother's Keeper program to more than double the capacity of Oswego's earlier Teacher Opportunity Corps program to serve 50 students, from freshmen through graduate school, and to support graduates in their early years of teaching.
"I found teaching was a perfect match for me," Kirkland said. "I have a real attachment with the kids."
In her application for the Zimpher Scholarship, Kirkland wrote, "I believe an effective teacher should possess patience, persistence, and passion." Students, she said, often don't understand a lesson's content on the first try or even the second, so the teacher has to practice patience, and every student deserves the teacher's best, most persistent efforts to reach learning goals.
"If the student still seems like they are struggling to understand the content, a good teacher would relate the content to the student's sociocultural reality -- that is passion," she said.
At MS104 -- Simon Baruch Middle School -- in Manhattan, Kirkland puts into action the student-passionate techniques she observed in her high school inspiration, Monique Messam, a teacher whose support was crucial when "I almost quit on school, and myself."
Kirkland practices supplying key ingredients that were missing in her youthful education: "I remember wondering why none of my teachers referenced any of the music, food, dances, or even any of the books my peers and I were exposed to at home," she said. "To me, using these resources and connecting them to classroom instruction is teaching."
Her students "have a lot of energy and, of course, their bodies are changing," Kirkland said. "It's an age group I love working with. They are learning who they are. Energy-wise, they're right in the perfect ballpark."
Early next year, Kirkland will move to the High School for Health Professions in Manhattan for the conclusion of her teacher preparation placements, leading her to SUNY Oswego commencement in May. She plans to apply for teaching jobs and to obtain her master's degree in literacy education or special education while she works as a teacher, likely in New York City.
SUNY's Association of Council Members and College Trustees (ACT) provides the annual scholarship to recognize Nancy L. Zimpher's dedication and commitment to improving teacher preparation, including as the State University's chancellor. "Every student deserves a great teacher," Zimpher once said, "and SUNY's role in teacher preparation is paramount to making sure New York's classrooms have the best of the best."
For more information, visit suny.edu/teachny. To apply to the SUNY Oswego School of Education or for more information about teacher preparation programs, visit oswego.edu/education.