Loving and learning

Teaching sisters tackle trauma with support

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Coming from a family filled with both veteran and young educators, it was almost a no-brainer that sisters Catherine Stanley and Mandy Jayne Stanley Antwine would one day have their own classroom.

A destiny it was.

The two have since answered the calling, as Antwine currently teaches Pre-K, as well as fourth, fifth and sixth grade exceptional education at Brighton School within the Jefferson County School District in Alabama. Stanley is a high school chemistry teacher at Fairfield Preparatory High School near Birmingham, Alabama.

“I really do believe that the Stanleys were meant to teach,” Antwine said.

For Stanley, now 23, the passion to become an educator came early. At the age of 12, she began teaching piano lessons out of a studio in her parents’ home.

“They encouraged me in every way,” Stanley said.

But for Antwine, 26, she says her journey began long before she was even born.

Mandy Jayne Stanley Antwine currently teaches Pre-K, as well as fourth, fifth and sixth grade exceptional education at Brighton School within the Jefferson County School District in Alabama. [COURTESY PHOTOS]


“My father often lovingly spoke of his deceased mother, Helen, to my sisters and I,” she said. “He once told me, ‘The world lost your grandmother; two weeks later, God sent you. He needed another loving soul in the world to teach children.’”

A lot of patience, a love for learning and the belief that anyone can learn are just a few of the qualities she said she shares with her late grandmother, who too was a special education teacher.

“Recognizing my love for children and learning, my high school teachers, professors and family fostered my gifts,” Antwine said. “I’m simply following my destiny.”

Though she’s only been teaching for a short amount of time, Antwine has already managed to rack up a number of accolades. Some on the list include Brighton School 2017 Second Mile Teacher, 2018-2019 Jefferson County Teacher of the Year Top 5 finalist for Elementary division, Brighton School 2018 Teacher of the Year and Brighton School 2019 Teacher of the Year. In 2014, she was named National Student Teacher of the Year, and in 2015 she was a National Student Teacher of the Year Selection committee member.

“I don’t think about how I can win another award or get nominated to serve on another leadership committee, I simply focus on how I can win over my students’ hearts and encourage them to strive for a better future,” Antwine said. “There is way too much work that needs to be done in the world of education for me not to use the platforms I am provided with wisely and not selfishly. I always say a prayer for God to allow me to use the platform to better the lives of others.”

Catherine Stanely is a high school chemistry teacher at Fairfield Preparatory High School near Birmingham, Alabama.

In today’s society, a number of unique education issues are facing impoverished and minority communities. One of those, Antwine said, is why some children of poverty struggle academically. In the end, it all boils down to the effects of trauma.

Trauma has been shown to have an adverse impact on the prefrontal cortex by creating severe amounts of stress hormones. This results in difficulties with executive functioning, attention deficits, interpersonal relationship skills, health problems and self-esteem issues, all of which are necessary skills to be successful academically.

Classrooms are often the only place students can achieve development of the prefrontal cortex, which will help them thrive not only in grade school, but also encourage them to pursue paths of higher education and professional success.

“Although several children grow up in environments with adverse childhood experiences, schools and communities can instill grit, pride and a love of learning by providing them with a growth mindset-based learning environment, engaging instruction and an immense amount of emotional support,” Antwine said. “Love and learning must go hand in hand. We must protect children and create environments for them that are conducive for learning.”

Growing up, Stanley and Antwine had their own obstacles to overcome in society that included finding their identity.

“We were black girls with a dad who was a doctor and who went to a predominantly white school,” Stanley said. “There was a moment in each of our lives where we found out we were really black. It helped to have a sister in those moments.”

Still today, Stanley and Antwine lean on each other for advice.

“We’ll call and vent to each other. I did that just today actually,” Stanley laughed. “She does have really good advice, though.”

Stanley said black women who achieve success independently and through instilling values and knowledge in their students are not always placed at the forefront of education. Stanley gives all credit to her parents.

“They were super supportive of us and pushed us to be different and separate ourselves from others,” she said.

At the end of the day, both sisters agreed seeing students succeed makes it all worth it.

“At the end of every school year, I hold the ‘Antwine’s Avengers Award Ceremony’ for all of my students,” Antwine said. “Since my classroom theme is superheroes, every child gets an award that is specifically tailored toward his or her superpower, or strengths, and journey over the school year. Seeing their face light up makes me realize just how much of an impact forming relationships with students can have.”