Meet Superhero Educator: Precious Symonette
A creative writing teacher who inspires her students to find their voice, build their confidence and be resilient.
A ten-year veteran of teaching, Precious Symonette has always known she wanted to be an educator. “I remember playing teacher in my room. I would put all my stuffed animals in a row, and I would teach them,” she says.
Raised by a single mom, Velma Jones, in Hallandale, Florida, Precious grew up in a loving and nurturing environment surrounded by family. At a young age, she learned the power of words. She used writing as a way to express her feelings without having to speak them out loud.
Precious recalls two people who made significant impacts to her life. The first person was Ms. Peyton, her high school English teacher. “I would never forget her. She was an amazing writing teacher,” says Precious “She was very charismatic, very caring, and she told me ‘you are a writer, but more importantly, you are a teacher.’ I stopped resisting what Ms. Patton was telling me, and I accepted it.”
The second person who impacted her life was Felicia Brunson, one of her mentors. “Ms. Brunson was the one who taught me the power of spoken word,” says Precious, “I was an introvert, more comfortable writing, rather than speaking in front of people. Ms. Brunson told me I was being extremely selfish by not sharing my thoughts with the world. She encouraged me to recite ‘Phenomenal Woman’ by my favorite author, Maya Angelou. When I stepped on stage and started speaking, I just came alive. From that very moment on, I started writing my own things, and shared it with the world.”
After five successful years of teaching at Charles R. Drew Middle School, Precious felt something was still missing from her curriculum. She didn’t want to be the teacher who told her students how to think, but rather the teacher who taught her students how to express themselves freely, without restraints. She wanted to inspire, motivate and help guide her students to be the best.
While conducting research, Precious stumbled across the novel “The Freedom Writers Diary” by California teacher Erin Gruwell. “I read that book in one day, and I was like okay, this is the methodology of teaching that I need to adapt,” says Precious. Within a week, she integrated the novel into her curriculum. "I wanted to teach my students how to be resilient, and to know they could be great.”
“At the time I wasn’t an official Freedom Writers teacher. I was just a teacher with a novel, and I was teaching it in the way I felt my students could relate,” says Precious. Her new teaching approach was very popular amongst her students. They started sharing and posting about her on social media. This buzz caught the attention Erin Gruwell, who invited Precious to California to train to be an official Freedom Writers teacher. There are currently about 470 official Freedom Writers teacher worldwide, but Precious is the only one in South Florida, for now.
Precious was the first teacher who Mr. Reginald Lee hired when he became the new principal of Miami Norland Senior High School, home of the Vikings. Mr. Lee was already a big supporter of Precious, and knew first-hand the kind of impact she made at Charles R. Drew Middle School. He was confident her Freedom Writers program would make an even greater impact on the lives of the students at Norland. In the past 3 years, 450 students have gone through Precious’ Vikings Freedom Writers program. All of them are published writers, all perform spoken word, and most want to help pay it forward and give back to their community.
Like the majority of educators, Precious struggled for years trying to find the right work-life balance. She wanted to be a great educator for her students and a great mom for her two boys, Xay’vier and Daemyn. Precious’ life changed when she came to the realization that she didn’t have to separate the two. “Why should I feel guilty for giving motherly love to my students, especially to those who don’t get any love at home?”
“Growing up with so much love was amazing,” says Precious, “I’ve had great people supporting me so if I run into one of my students who don’t have that experience or less, it makes me feel guilty for not giving my all to them.” The family community Precious has built for her students have been life altering for some. At the end of the day, Precious knows her students are going to be fine because she has shown them how to create a support system amongst themselves.
What’s next for our Superhero Educator? “The sky’s the limit,” says Precious, “Right now, I’m going to continue to be the best educator I can be, and continue to be open and receptive to whatever the universe throws at me. I’ve been extremely blessed in my life. I have a family who I absolutely love, and they love me. I get to work with great people and help students every day. Teaching is amazing. Everybody should be a teacher, it’s a wonderful thing.”
PLUS: Watch Precious’ “Superhero Educator” video here!