Local educators look to God for some everyday guidance
Bubbling with enthusiasm and a warm, friendly smile, Kewanda August Bickham, principal of Wesley Ray Elementary, personifies the characteristics she strives to instill in her staff and students. Her main goal as administrator is to motivate those in her charge to be all they can be, both academically and personally.
“My interest in education came quite naturally,” said Bickham. “My neighborhood was filled with educators who were fabulous role models for me. Coach W.L. Johnson, my godfather, and Mrs. Helen Magee are only two of a host of people who were instrumental in my decision to pursue a career in education.
“For a time I toyed with the idea of social work but quickly came to realize that my heart was leading me elsewhere. While attending Dillard University, Dr. Patricia Morris, one of my professors, took an interest in me. One day she said, ‘Kewanda, I see how much you love education. I would love to see you major in it.’
“At this point I declared my major. Actually I decided to pursue a double major in special education and elementary education. Upon graduation I taught first grade at Franklinton Primary for nine years.
“My friend, Amanda Dillon, urged me to work on my masters degree with her. I was settled into my routine and wasn’t sure I wanted to go forward with this, but she and my parents were very persistent in their encouragement. Now, I’m so thankful they gave me the little push I needed,” said Bickham.
Bickham stayed the course and drove many lonesome nights to Kentwood, where classes were available. After receiving her masters degree there was one more hurdle to overcome. Bickham took the test required to complete her license as administrator but did not pass. Not to be deterred, she took it a second time but once more came up short.
Instead of giving up, Bickham dug in her heels. She turned her dining room into her study hall. Post-it notes with inspirational quotes and facts she needed to know covered the walls. Much prayer filled this room as she prepared once again for the test.
On a rainy day she said a little prayer and tried again. The third time was the charm for Bickham. Ginger Champagne, former principal of Wesley Ray Elementary, encouraged her to apply for the position she was vacating. Bickham was hired and moved into the role of administrator. Bickham’s father is the pastor of Wesley Ray United Methodist Church just across the street, a fact that has proven quite convenient for her. She can stay at school working late and go right to the church for services.
“My faith is important to me. The drive from my home in Franklinton allows me to meditate. The Lord and I plan my day together. I need that time with God so He can guide me. My time spent with the Lord gives me more humility, patience and perseverance. I am only able to face the challenges of my job through the power of Christ,” she said.
The Rev. Esco Burton, paraprofessional in charge of in school suspension, is one of the many staff members that Bickham relies on.
According to Burton, “I had a bit of culture shock when I entered the classroom. I thought my methods were proper, but later realized I was driving the students farther into rebellion. I came to understand that many of the students I served had no positive male role model in their lives, and my demeanor softened. I began to listen more and hear the hurt in their voices.
“When I moved from New Orleans after Katrina I didn’t have a dream of being locked up in a little room with the ‘bad kids,’ but it was a God assignment,” Burton continued. “I pastor a church in Hackley and have more compassion because God has given me insight into the hurt that many have endured. God is the healer. He can heal us all from hurt and brokenness.”