“Irreplaceable.” That’s how one colleague describes physics teacher and instructional specialist Kena Allison at Thurgood Marshall Academy in Washington, D.C. Allison’s pursuit to help others actually started with medical school. Luckily for her students today, she realized she wanted to help shape the future by becoming a teacher instead, carrying her love of science over into the classroom where she shares it with her students.
Always the consummate innovator, Allison encourages her 12th-grade students to learn Albert Einstein’s subject of choice, physics, in creative ways. Inside the classroom, students originate physics raps to learn equations or play Red Light, Green Light to demonstrate Newton’s Laws of Motion. Outside the classroom, she plans field trips for students to study the aerodynamics of roller coasters and also created a “Physics of Sports” project, where students pick their favorite sports like golf or gymnastics and relate back to her how the laws of physics apply to their respective sports.
Academy students enter the public charter school in the 9th grade, many of them three to four years behind, so Allison developed a system to get freshmen on the right track from the start. By the time they reach her senior physics class, these teens are prepped for her introduction to the rigors of college. One hundred percent of Academy students are accepted to college.
In addition to being an exceptional classroom teacher, Allison is science department chair, collaborating with colleagues to study Next Generation Science Standards and leading professional development. For her tireless efforts, she received a Harvard Fellowship for Enhancing Teacher Effectiveness in High Schools.
Kena Allison could have been a skilled doctor but instead chose to be a dedicated school teacher. Over the years, she has diagnosed and fixed systemic school challenges, repaired the broken dreams of her students, and contributed to improving the academic, emotional, and physical health of not just her students but of her entire school and community.