Meet Sarah Bridgewaters, Payton’s new learning specialist

By Anna Yang, Contributor

A learning specialist, an algebra teacher, a Human Geography teacher, and an English teacher, Ms. Bridgewaters dedicates herself to finding new ways to support students.

The Paw Print: Why did you come to Payton?

Ms. Bridgewaters: Part of it is really funny. I had a friend in high school who got into Payton and she was like, “Oh, we have this and we do this and that!” And that was my high school self’s perspective about the school: [Payton] had so many resources and things available. And that is something that now, as a teacher, I really appreciate: that you all have access to AP classes; you have seminars; we have enrichment; you don’t have to stay until 4:30 or 5:00. At Payton, I feel like I can be the person I want to be, and students also aren’t tired and have all the things they need to be successful. 

The Paw Print: Besides coming to Payton, what drew you to teaching overall?

Ms. Bridgewaters: I love teaching. I’ve been teaching for five years. I started at Wendell Phillips. I took a couple years off of teaching after I lost a couple students. I was like, “I can’t do this anymore.” So I thought I would go into public policy and get my PhD, and I ended up leaving the University of Chicago with my master’s. That’s when I started teaching at Noble, at Mission College Prep, because I love teaching. I needed to go back to it. I was drawn to teaching just because of all the support I’ve gotten from teachers growing up, and realizing that there is no other job that made me as happy as when I’m sitting here and helping students. It’s been one of the most rewarding things. I want to give back and be that person that I had when I was in high school. 

The Paw Print: What kind of impact would you like to make on the students here?

Ms. Bridgewaters: I always say I don’t care about your grade, which is partially true. I care about your happiness and your well-being. And sometimes that means school comes second. I want students to feel comfortable and safe to come to me to tell me when school comes second. And then, when school does come first, I want to be that person that helps students get that moment of “Oh, snap!” Even introducing different ways of how you can participate in different things. I have students who love animals and love art, and they had  no idea that you could actually work at zoos and create exhibits and paint the murals in the background. I want to be that person to students to help them figure out how they can achieve their dream.

The Paw Print: What kinds of things do you do for the students that help them achieve their goals and dreams?

Ms. Bridgewaters: Making the space for those conversations to happen. I think it’s helpful to have a space in class where we can just talk, in every class. If you think about algebra, it’s usually all numbers, but there’s a strong history behind that. And we can talk about systemic wealth inequality while talking about systems of equations: doing a system of one person’s salary versus another person’s salary and will they ever make the same amount of money in their lifetime. I want to involve those types of things so kids can see, “Oh wait, I really do like algebra, because I can explore these things I like, but use it only in a statistical or qualitative way.”

The Paw Print: What do you think is the biggest challenge in the way of your and the students’ goals?

Ms. Bridgewaters: I think right now, it’s just adapting to school again, to people again, to the amount of work. I work with the freshmen… freshmen are normally really quiet, and this year, especially. That’s the biggest issue right now. One thing I really like doing – I’ve even said this, that I’m like a Miss Frizzle teacher, one that is supporting everybody – is whenever anyone says something that they like or appreciate, I encourage snapping, and it’s been so helpful. When kids are starting to pause and to answer, other students are starting to snap now. I like embedding things like that, where it makes students feel more comfortable, like they have support from their classmates. I think it’s nice, especially with masks on, you can’t see if someone’s smiling at your story. Having ways for students to feel like, “Oh yeah, they did relate to that!” is helping them feel a little bit more empowered in the classroom. I even do spirit fingers, sending positive energy, different things like that. I love doing check-ins or walk-and-talks. I think that’s something that makes y’all feel more comfortable in the classroom, hopefully.

The Paw Print: Besides goals and challenges, how would you address the issue of equity in the classroom?

Ms. Bridgewaters: I love this. I was an African American studies undergrad, and then I got my PhD in political science, so I’m all about that. My aunt was a preschool teacher for 25 years, and she has this thing. She tells all the kids, “Pretend you just got a boo-boo.” Some kids are like, they fell and scraped their knee, and some are like, “My head got bit off by a dinosaur.” Then she holds up a Band-aid and she’s like, “This is what everyone gets.” The kids are like, “No! What? I need a cast” or “That doesn’t work for me,” and I’m like, “Exactly.” Equity is understanding what different students need. We ask students, when did you feel welcome in a classroom? When did you feel unwelcome?


The Paw Print: Dog person or cat person?

Ms. Bridgewaters: I’m a cat lady. I love cats. Usually, I wear a cat thing on Fridays.

NOTE: Ms. Bridgewaters owns a Siamese cat named Ringo, and her brother owns a snake named Nina. 

The Paw Print: Besides being a learning specialist, you also teach many other subjects. Which ones? Any favorites?

Ms. Bridgewaters: I actually just fell into teaching math; it’s what they needed at the first school, and then I taught algebra for a few years. Last year I taught 12th Grade English literature and was a college advisor, and now I’m doing algebra and AP Human Geography and English, so it’s just all over the place. I always use myself as an example: I have dyscalculia, so sometimes I switch numbers around, and I like telling students: I’m a math teacher! It’s okay! You can figure things out in life. I also really like math, especially algebra – it’s the math you can use in most of your life.

Paw Print: Family fun facts?

Ms. Bridgewaters: I was born in Germany! I’m half-Black half-German, and where I’m half white, or German, my siblings are half-Chinese. My stepmom moved from Shanghai, where she married my dad. My family is very international, and my little siblings use German words for grandma or Mom, and we use Chinese words for other things. I think it’s cool how that all comes together.

Image Courtesy of Ms. Sarah Bridgewaters

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