By Emma Vallelunga
A good educator knows it takes more than one person and more than one day to teach a student something valuable in their life. From growing up in Syracuse to graduating from Syracuse schools and seeking degrees to better the education of future generations in Syracuse, Frazer School K-8 Principal Latrina Brumfield has focused her career on the success of students despite the overwhelming obstacles COVID-19 brought to the world of education.
Attending HW Smith Pre-K-8 School, Levy Middle School and Nottingham High School, Brumfield said becoming a principal within the Syracuse City School District where she grew up and graduated was very humbling. While many things have changed since then, Brumfield said the need to continue serving the students both in and out of the classroom has remained.
“We as the leaders of the district have to find creative and innovative ways to entice the students to want to be in school and be involved in school activities but also making sure we’re involving families,” Brumfield said. “School is not just where students come every day to learn, but it’s [where] the entire community should be a part of it. We all are a part of raising the best child possible.”
Brumfield received a bachelor’s in psychology with an education minor and a master’s in special education from LeMoyne College. While she was teaching special education at McCarthy at Beard School within SCSD, she realized she enjoyed reaching out and helping more students outside of her own.
“I quickly took on a liking of helping everyone, not just the students that were in my class, but helping all the students and teachers and just being there for anybody who needed help and always coming up with different ideas to help make sure that the students were getting everything that they needed,” she said.
When the McCarthy principal at the time, who had asked Brumfield in the past if she was interested in going into administration, was injured for an extended period of time, Brumfield became a teacher on special assignment for McCarthy. Being that primary resource for students, teachers and families on a broader scale inspired her to go back to LeMoyne for her Certificate of Advanced Study in 2013. After that, Brumfield joined the Frazer faculty as principal at the beginning of the 2019 school year.
But the COVID-19 pandemic changed the face of education forever. Schools were shut down, learning from home was a new and confusing challenge and most students in the Syracuse schools didn’t have all the resources they needed to succeed in an online-only, at-home environment. Under her administration at Frazer, Brumfield said the school made a consistent effort to communicate with families through phone calls, texts, in-person visits and open conversations to seek out their needs when they knew times were tough.
“We were definitely a school that I felt like we made that one of our top priorities,” she said. “And when we weren’t able to contact the family, we made sure we had support staff that was able to go out and check in on the family, make sure they were doing OK and see whether they needed any supplies. I think that definitely helped the families just stay connected to the school.”
When the SCSD announced its fall 2020 reopening plan, Brumfield said she was nervous at times for the students’ safety but knew there were good procedures put in place by the district. Those included organized meal pick-ups at Frazer every day of the week, a service many students relied on for meals they wouldn’t normally be able to get at home during the week.
“It was nerve wracking to think about whether or not all of the students were going to be safe or even have enough food,” she said. “Those [meal pick-ups] helped ease the tension and anxiety of knowing whether students were going to be OK.”
Brumfield said the school year at Frazer went well despite COVID-19 and the changes, challenges and anxieties it brought.
“COVID was the unknown,” she said. “We were all learning about it at the same time. But overall, I feel like our teachers and staff were super flexible. They were resilient and able to take the changes and do what’s best for our students.”
One approach that proved effective and essential to student success, especially during the pandemic as schools reopened in the fall, was for teachers and administrators to show compassion and create a safe space for them to talk about their concerns.
“People have to realize that children are in school longer than they are at home each day, so when you think about that, you can inspire children to be whatever they want to be, to see the world differently through school,” she said. “Bringing empathy into the classroom is going to be crucial when you look at a year coming off of COVID, and coming back into the classroom, you don’t know what people have gone through in their homes.”
Brumfield also knew showing empathy and compassion was necessary in her own home life. Her second-oldest son and daughter were also students at West Genesee High School this year, trying to navigate the struggles of online learning, passing classes, managing time and even graduating.
“The same struggles I felt like everyone was having were [everywhere],” she said. “It wasn’t just pinpointed to one population of students or families. Everyone had trouble. [I was] watching my own children struggle with virtual learning and not wanting to sit through a virtual class one more day. With students being virtual, you have to be a part of their time management, making sure they’re up on-time for class, making sure their homework is being submitted, making sure they’re reaching out for help if they need it. Children are social beings, and having to take classes through a computer screen was hard for them.”
In her role as Frazer’s principal, she said she hopes more parents and families can collaborate and communicate with teachers and administrators on ways to better the school, especially after learning from the pandemic. And when it comes to finding success in Syracuse and its students, Brumfield said she’s made so many life-long connections with past students, present students, parents of students who graduated and others within the SCSD that their success is what tells her that she’s succeeded too.
“When you think about the students you come in contact with each and every day, the success comes from them knowing that you care about them and want to see them succeed,” she said. “It’s always a blessing to have them call you once they’ve graduated, to tell you what they’re doing with their lives. Knowing that I’m the principal at Frazer School [now], so many of my students that I had previous years call the school just to check in. So the success is knowing that they know you are always going to be there for them no matter what, and they can always reach out to you whenever or however they need to. That’s always showing me that I’ve done my job.”
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