Sara Yerry photographed in Brooklyn, New York on February 14, 2017
After graduating Brown with degrees in children’s cognitive development and Hispanic literature and culture, Sara Yerry’s jump to dual language teacher and advocate was a natural one. At Brooklyn Arbor School in South Williamsburg, Yerry serves as both a fourth grade Spanish-English classroom teacher and as the dual language coordinator, where she oversees development, teacher training and screening for a program that has gone from one kindergarten class in 2012 to a dual language class per grade at the K-5 school. Her work landed her a 2016-17 Big Apple Award for outstanding work in the classroom, and she continues to be a strong voice for equal rights for low-income students in NYC.  
How/why did you become involved in your line of work?
I studied children’s cognitive development and Hispanic literature and culture at Brown.  When I learned that the New York City Teaching Fellows program was seeking people to fill high-needs vacancies in schools with underserved populations, I jumped on the opportunity to meld two of my interests as a bilingual teacher. I quickly became an advocate for native language instruction for students learning English as second language.  I started a dual language program at my previous school in East Harlem and now I am the dual language coordinator at Brooklyn Arbor, a public magnet school South Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Tell us a little bit about your present work, the Cliffs Notes version of your day to day and what is at stake.
I am a dual language (Spanish-English) classroom teacher.  I teach fourth grade but I taught kindergarten, first, and second grades in previous years.  My students are a mix of native Spanish speakers learning English, native English speakers learning Spanish, and bilingual students.  I am in charge of literacy, math, science, social studies, and language instruction.  My students spend half of their elementary school career learning a second language. I am also the dual language coordinator. I oversee curriculum, teacher development, and screening for our growing program.  We opened in 2012 with one dual language classroom in kindergarten and next year we will have a dual language class on each grade, K-5.
What do you find most fulfilling about your work?
The relationships with students and parents, they stay with you long after the school year ends.  Teaching and learning is a shared experience and it is all about relationships and connections. After thirteen years in the classroom, I can call to mind countless moments of sheer joy.  I can’t imagine another profession where that is possible.    
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What is your proudest achievement with this work and what is your greatest challenge?
Proudest achievements –
  • Closing the achievement gap for historically underperforming populations.
  • Being nominated by parents for the Big Apple Award
  • Starting a non-profit to help low-income students connect with enrichment programming
  • Helping bring a soccer field to the rooftop of my school in East Harlem
Greatest challenges –
I grapple with how to ensure low-income students in NYC can be afforded the same educational and enrichment opportunities as their upper-income peers in a city where the neighborhood you live in often determines how many resources your school has and the opportunities you have access to. Teaching in two languages requires a tremendous amount of planning.  Bilingual educators and students do double the work.
What do you hope changes or improves (or continues!) in your field in the future?
I hope that NYC education officials and community members continue to work to decrease socioeconomic segregation in our schools. I believe that diverse, integrated, inclusive learning communities where students of all socioeconomic backgrounds are represented are essential to closing the achievement gap in our nation.
Another challenge – The work is never over, the to-do list never gets completely checked off.  You wonder whether you have done enough to reach the struggling student or sufficiently challenged the advanced; and whether the values of kindness, inclusivity, and inquiry that I try to instill in kids stick long after they leave the classroom.
Learn more about this year’s 100 Influencers in Brooklyn Culture.
Photo by Nicole Fara Silver. 

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