Mariama Shaheed believes that, through language, marginalized communities can come together to affect change. This was the premise that catalyzed her teaching career 23 years ago and what has brought her to where she is today. Mariama Shaheed is the CEO and Founder of Global Preparatory Academy, Indianapolis’ first Spanish immersion charter school. In her work as an education leader, she creates opportunities for students to expand their minds by appreciating and mastering language. The mission of Global Preparatory Academy is to build global leaders. At a moment in time where there is unrest all over the world, Shaheed believes that it is prime time to mold scholars with a global mindset.
Born in Evansville, IN and raised in Indianapolis, Mariama Shaheed realized her passion for education as a child. Though she did not particularly like school, she knew that she enjoyed learning. Not only did she enjoy it, but she also enjoyed facilitating learning for her peers and siblings. She enjoyed making learning meaningful and loved to see people become better and more confident as a result of learning something new. After taking Spanish during her freshman year at North Central High School, she developed a deep interest in the language and continued to study it through the rest of high school and through her undergraduate career.
During her 23 years as an educator, Shaheed has learned a number of things about equity and effectiveness in education. As the leader of Indianapolis’ first bi-lingual charter school, she knows what challenges innovative education work can bring. During the developmental phases of Global Prep, she recognized that things like onboarding new teachers and developing them to live the mission of the school were hurdles to climb. Not to mention, training teachers to give instruction 50% in English and 50% in Spanish was no small feat. Because of this, she knew there needed to be clarity in the mission and vision of the school. If educators themselves weren’t getting the necessary training and resources they needed, then students were going to miss out on vital learning.
Shaheed strives to be a leader that truly sees the educators and students that she supports. To her, real teaching is about listening, adjusting to what people need, and slowing down to meet them where they are. This often means slowing down and making the commitment to be vulnerable enough to connect to the hearts and minds of the people she serves. One thing that allows her to do this is her ability to think critically about connecting with educators and students from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds. Everyone walks into a learning environment from a different perspective and Shaheed is intentional about connecting with that perspective.
As for key issues in the education landscape, Shaheed believes that everything begins with staffing. In order to best serve students, there needs to be a healthy pool of educators with the proper training to support them. Shaheed’s work is an effort to strengthen and sustain that pool. Coupled with the staffing issue, Shaheed also believes that representation in the classroom is another big issue particularly concerning Black male representation. The education system needs to do a better job at hiring and keeping Black male educators in Indianapolis. With many political issues creating more tension in the education ecosystem, Shaheed asserts that educators must not lose sight of the key goal: to educate children effectively to the best of their ability. There is no room for distraction or infighting. Educators must rise above the micro to focus on the macro.
With all of the misconceptions that many people have about teachers, Shaheed holds that a major misconception is that the job of teaching is simple. Many people don’t realize that, today, the art form of education has evolved and teachers are now responsible for teaching children how to think critically. This is why, to Shaheed, it is critical that the education system be uncompromising about standards for educators. While students are responsible for doing the heavy lifting of learning in the classroom, teachers are majorly responsible for shaping students’ minds and it is essential that the bar be set high for the level of commitment teachers have for the work.
Looking forward, Mariama Shaheed knows that her work is a vital need in the community. According to the American Immigration Council, Indiana’s population of immigrants is steadily increasing and nearly 30% of immigrants in Indiana come from a Spanish speaking country. The work of facilitating bi-lingual education is not just necessary, it is also becoming essential. Innovation in the work of education is no small task, but Shaheed knows that she is up for the task.