Dr. Alyce Anderson, Director of Curriculum and Instruction for Brick Township Public School District
I grew up in Brick Township. My story is that my mother was mentally ill when I was growing up. It was a challenge for my father who was raising five kids and was the sole provider, and we were economically disadvantaged and even homeless for a while. But really it was the educators in Brick Township that were my salvation. They provided the attention, the affirmation and the approval that helped me to thrive. I owe such a debt of gratitude to the educators because they are really responsible for my success, just as our current teachers are responsible for the success of our students in our community. They really are the glue that has held the community together during the pandemic. The teachers do not treat teaching as a job, but it really is a calling for them. The amount of work they have done showing up for their kids and our community during this pandemic, it really can bring me to tears.
My role is to serve the community and its families, and so many of them are just like me, and have had the same challenges, and I know that teachers are so impactful. When I was growing up, none of my teachers knew my story. They had no idea. Back then, you didn’t talk about mental illness and especially about schizophrenia. Even in my 20’s, my friends didn’t know about my mom. It wasn’t until my 30’s that I really started sharing my story. What got me to start opening up about it was I lost a brother, and he was young, and I said to myself, I will never again leave something unsaid that I have on my heart. I am now the type of person that if something crosses my mind, I will say it, because I don’t know if I will have an opportunity later.
We now know what childhood trauma produces. What they found is to build resilience from trauma as a child is connected with a person who is your advocate and your supporter, and in most cases that is the child’s teacher, or coach, or counselor. When I became principal at the school I attended, that was probably when I started to tell my story. I introduced myself and started telling my story because I wanted my teachers to know the power they have and to be able to work with that intentionally every single day. I have never stopped sharing it ever since. I know how much even a smile can make a difference so I try to connect with people, even if it is just a smile everywhere I go, whether it’s Wawa, or the drive through at McDonalds, because I really believe we change lives by our kindness.
Interview by Gregory Andrus