"I was absolutely appalled by the state of public education in this country," Griffiths said. During her junior year at Colby College, she volunteered at a school in Harlem and she was hooked for good.
Today Griffiths, 25, a founding teacher at KIPP Tech Valley, in Albany, says she set out to learn as much as possible about how to "reach kids in the most effective way."
After graduating cum laude with a degree in human development, Griffiths began her teaching career as a Teach For America corps member in the Mississippi Delta where she taught 7th and 8th grade reading.
"I failed pretty miserably early on," Griffiths said of her early teaching. Her learning process involved plenty of self-reflection and self-criticism. "I looked to other people to find the best ways to do things and was always asking myself how my classroom could be more effective," she said. "I spent a good deal of time reading and thinking about curriculum and visiting other successful teachers."
By December of her second year of teaching, each student had read an average of 12 grade level books and had a class average of 81% on all first semester reading benchmarks. In addition, Sylvie directed a play tied to her reading curriculum that students performed on the main stage at Delta State University in front of 300 elementary students.
"I'm a performer at heart," Griffiths said. "It's really about selling the kids on what you’re teaching. When we're passionate about the material, the kids will be too." Griffiths said she was drawn to KIPP's program by its "very positive school climate and its potential to truly empower kids."
Like other KIPP schools, KIPP Tech Valley is in session for over 200 days each year, including Saturday classes held at least twice each month. Classes run from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. "It's a unique environment," Griffiths said of KIPP, crediting the program's consistency in dealing with its students for much of its success. "It's all about the kids and how we can support each other to ensure our students are getting the best education possible." Asked about what she likes to do outside of school (at first she laughed, "You mean what did I like to do before I worked at KIPP?") she listed community theater, reading, and exercise.
Griffiths has studied theater and art history in London, and was once awarded the Mayor's Citation for public service in her hometown of Baltimore, MD. Griffiths said her focus right now is on making sure every one of her 79 students is making the grade. "Right now my goal is to get my kids to be grade level and ultimately life long readers. My job is to support them along the way," Griffiths said.
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