Bill Cummiskey ’05, Project 55 Fellow in 2006-07, and current teacher at The Community Group in Lawrence, MA
Why a Project 55 Fellowship?
After a year-long internship with group Athletes in Action, Bill applied to seminary. Harvard Divinity School would have been ideal since his fiancé was enrolled in a PhD program at Harvard. But when he didn’t get accepted to the program, Bill found himself scrambling for a plan B. His friend, then-Executive Director Kim Hendler, encouraged him to apply for a Princeton Project 55 Fellowship at Community Day Public Charter School (now The Community Group) in Lawrence, MA.
How did a PP55 Fellowship morph into a teaching career?
In 2006, Bill’s Fellowship prompted him to start contemplating long-term career goals outside of vocational ministry. Bill reflects: “I started to really examine who I was and who I wanted to be.” He remembers driving back from apple picking at a farm near the school and having an epiphany about how much he enjoyed teaching at the school. “The staff gave me so much positive feedback and support, and I realized I could easily see myself developing a career as a teacher there. The realization was due in large part to the kids. Our students in Lawrence are truly amazing and being with them and working with them is a reward in and of itself.”
How was PP55 different from an internship?
I think that supportive community was the highlight. Dena Koren ’04 (my PP55 mentor) even helped me find a summer job! The Boston Area Committee was motivated and comprised of interested people who were there if you needed them.
What does your role at TCG look like now?
Bill accepted a permanent roll at TCG after his internship year, where he wore many hats. “I began as a generalist which was one part paraprofessional in the classroom with other teachers, one part in house substitute, and one part helper at odd jobs and small groups.” Over the next five years Bill’s teaching skills improved and he took on the role of a co-teacher. “I’d be responsible for small groups on long-term or even year-long bases and worked mainly in math and English language arts.” Bill’s morphing role allowed him to teach the same group of students for four straight years. “They were an amazing group and it was an awesome experience.” Bill currently serves as the 7th and 8th grade science teacher, while also filling the role of a technology integration coach, a job he finds both fun and challenging.
PP55 had an indelible impact on Bill’s decision to work at TCG long term. What started as a “good job,” evolved into even more than a career : “Working in schools, in particular charter schools in Massachusetts, and in Lawrence specifically, has become a vocational calling. I can’t communicate how large a role TCG has played in my life. I’ve been there for one third of my entire life at this point, which seems incredible. I’d have to say that the colleagues I’ve worked with, their professionalism and skill and care for students, has been a huge gift. And the students are why we are all there and they are wonderful, new every day, and it is an amazing privilege to be entrusted to teach them.”
Bill and his wife, Kristina Fontanez ‘05, live in MA with their two sons.
Nina Narayanan ’16, current Project 55 Fellow at The Community Group in Lawrence, MA
Why a Project 55 Fellowship?
I’m planning on pursuing a PhD in anthropology, but for me the choice to take a year off in between was a no-brainer. I study anthropology largely because the discipline is defined by intercultural communication and understanding; it’s a natural venue for social justice and for confronting the changing possibilities of a multicultural world. PP55 has offered me the opportunity to work hands-on with a disadvantaged community and to learn directly from them about the challenges they face. Lawrence is a gateway city for low-income Latin American immigrants, so the population I serve has very specific linguistic, socioeconomic and socio-emotional needs. As an academic, I want to make sure that my theoretical work has tangible results, and that I’m able to understand the practical implications and lived experiences of racial inequality and cultural integration before approaching these topics from an academic standpoint. In this regard, my year as a PP55 fellow has already been invaluable.
What’s your role at The Community Group (TCG)?
The culture at The Community Group and at Community Day Arlington Elementary School is all hands on deck, all the time. For me that’s meant that while my job description involves creating and translating mass communications home, running parent meetings and parent-teacher conferences, and teaching adult ESL by night, I’ve also found myself thrown into the classroom to teach second grade for two weeks when we were suddenly understaffed; I’ve worked in Operations, and gotten an in-depth look at the day-to-day mechanics of running a school; I’ve started a student choir with our after-school program, and found myself involved with efforts to expand our enrichment and artistic offerings; and through various communication initiatives I’ve been able to play a direct role in shaping our long-term plans for bridging the language and education gap with our community. I rarely walk into work knowing what my day will look like, and I am consistently handed the opportunity to make a very real difference in the lives of our children and families. Every day is defined by surprise, excitement, and inspiration.
How has the PP55 Fellowship impacted your future plans?
After my fellowship, I’ll be spending a year in Argentina as a Fulbright scholar, then returning to the states to pursue a PhD in Anthropology and Ethnomusicology. The PP55 Fellowship has impacted ,my research focus by challenging me to consider how my work can make a practical difference. I’ve always been interested in the ways minority and immigrant communities define and express their identities against mainstream American culture. More and more, I find myself approaching this topic from the question of language and education, confronted as I am every day with the challenges of translation, interpretation, and cultural difference in an institutional educational setting. I hope and intend on making sure that my research is poised to do real work towards addressing these social issues.
The Community Group
In response to the poverty, teen pregnancy, illegal drug use, and gang violence that has plagued Lawrence, MA since 1970, The Community Group (TCG) has been creating opportunities in Lawrence by managing a range of programs, including a network of early childhood and out-of-school time programs, a network of charter and district public schools, consulting and training programs, and a child care resource and referral program. AlumniCorps is proud to have placed 15 Project 55 Fellows at The Community Group since beginning our partnership in 2005. Learn more about them at www.thecommunitygroupinc.org!