From Playworks to TFA

Former Playworker Imani Sims is making a difference in the classroom with Teach For America

After graduating from Kalamazoo College, Imani Sims knew she wanted to become a leader in her home city of Detroit. She was inspired by the Playworks mission and, in 2014, became a Playworks Coach in a Detroit school. Her passion for service work only grew, and she chose to continue her impact in Detroit Public Schools teaching kindergarten as a 2015 Teach For America corps member. Thanks to the skills she developed in Playworks, Imani is building an environment of trust and teamwork with the young students in her classroom.


Q: I’d love to hear more about your path to Teach For America. How did you decide to join Playworks? And what was your path to TFA?

During an internship after graduation, I realized I wanted to make a change and work more with children. I moved to a program coordinator position where I got to work directly with kids. When that year ended, I found Playworks, and it sounded perfect. I got to be an AmeriCorps member, part of a diverse staff, work directly with kids, and teach them about play. I started wanting to teach full time, using play to help children in low-income communities learn. I wanted to use the skills I learned with Playworks to help create a similar culture in my own classroom, so I applied to Teach For America.

Q: What is one example of a positive impact you had on the Detroit community during your time with Playworks?

My Playworks school was lucky enough to receive Michelle Obama’s ‘Let’s Move!’ grant. As part of my AmeriCorps service learning project, I worked with gym teachers and parents to host a school health fair. I taught parents ways to get their kids outside and playing during the summer. One of our parents also hosted a culturally competent food workshop, where he helped families find food that would be both healthy and accessible in their urban environment.

Q: How did you grow personally and professionally through your service with Playworks?

Before Playworks, I wasn’t as confident and presenting in large groups made me anxious. The program teaches you how to tackle any topic in front of a large group. We worked in teams, which requires a different set of skills and trust than working alone. We created a family where we learned how to rely on each other and tap into each other’s’ talents. I even met my best friend through Playworks!

Q: How did your service with Playworks prepare you to be a leader with Teach For America?

I learned how to bring children together, building on their enthusiasm and motivations, rather than relying on discipline and dominance. My principal was surprised how good my classroom management was as a first-year teacher. It was largely because I used so many Playworks strategies and built an environment where my students started to trust each other. They listened to each other equally and worked together as a team.

Q: What inspires you to continue in the fight to end educational inequity? 

I grew up in a very low-income neighborhood, but also near one of the wealthiest districts in Detroit. I went to high school on a scholarship that served mostly black and brown students, but I sat in classes with kids who didn’t look like me. I’ve always seen both sides and walked the line between them. I want to blur that line more. I want to give more people access to the great opportunities I had. I want my students to understand their past and fully engage in their future.

Playworks is currently hiring AmeriCorps members for the 2017-18 academic year. Learn more and apply today!

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