Living the American Dream—and Inspiring Future Generations
Touro NYSCAS student determined to help students with special needs and disabilities as a special education teacher
Trinidadian emigrant, NYSCAS student, and mother Nadia Thompson-Redhead is determined to improve the lives of children. Growing up in poverty and witnessing the challenges her brothers faced because of their learning issues, she was inspired to become a special education teacher. Now, she’s well on her way to making her mark in both education and psychology, excelling in her studies while working as a paraprofessional with the Department of Education. After graduating, she plans to earn her master’s and teach early childhood education before pursuing a PhD in clinical psychology.
Can you share a little bit about your background? When did you move to the U.S.?
I grew up in the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago and am the second of five children. Although my family lived in extreme poverty and there were no opportunities to go beyond high school where I grew up, my parents always emphasized education. I moved to Miami more than 16 years ago and traveled back and forth to Trinidad, before finally emigrating and moving to New York in 2008.
Why did you decide to attend Touro? What made you want to earn your degree now?
Growing up, I always wanted to work with children. Now, I am a wife and mother to a young child and found that I had hit a ceiling in terms of opportunities because I had no college degree. I have always wanted to further my education as well as help children and set an example for my son and family. I also wanted to give us the opportunity to have a better future. I hoped to use the hardships I’ve faced as motivation to shape and build my character. Touro initially stood out to me because of its amazingly unusual flexible scheduling.
Describe your current work as a paraprofessional with the DOE.
My primary responsibility is to be a one-on-one paraprofessional to a little boy at PS 12. I often provide support to the teacher by assisting students with individual and small group lessons. I also facilitate discipline and order throughout the classroom, maintain student records, prepare and check homework and correct tests.
What initially drew you to elementary and special education?
I was drawn to elementary school special education after witnessing discrimination against young children in Trinidad, where special education wasn’t available. My two youngest brothers were never able to make it past the fifth grade, and up until then, the only way my parents and teachers tried to reach them academically was through abusive physical discipline and disparaging verbal comments such as “What is wrong with you?” My brothers could not read basic words, not because they didn't want to, but because they didn’t have the capacity to do so. I strongly believe that they would be diagnosed with a learning disability, most likely dyslexia, if there was a system in place to recognize learning disabilities. I firmly believe strong elementary-level education is crucial for children because it takes place when children develop the most quickly. I want to be part of this stage and have an impact on children's lives.
Additionally, I believe intimidating young children cannot only lead to psychological issues but impact their parents, who may not understand what their children are experiencing, as well. Witnessing the abuse my brothers encountered caused me to resent both my parents for many years, and I only came to accept their behavior was a product of their environment a few years ago.
How do you balance attending school with work and your family life?
I am naturally resilient, but I don't think I could be earning a college degree without the support of my husband. He has made sacrifices for my education, including taking on childcare, cooking, cleaning, and other responsibilities so I can attend 5-6 courses each semester, including Sunday classes. I try to make time at least once a month to go out for dinner with my family, and even then all I can think about is assignments and getting enough rest to get to class on time.
I take whatever free time I can get, usually between semesters, to relax and have movie nights with my family. Figuring out this balance is one of the most difficult things I've ever had to do, and it’s made me see single parents who are students in a whole new light.
Which Touro experiences and faculty have had the most impact on you?
Although my original academic advisor, Lita Cabezas, switched departments and is no longer my advisor, I still seek advice from her about almost everything from coursework to life in general. So many courses and professors—Professors Lewis, Eid, and Batson (English); Professors Heyman and Coombs (Psychology); and Professor Medina (Education), to name a few—have impacted me because they challenged me.
I’m proud to have earned my associate’s degree in Liberal Arts and Science with a GPA of 3.869 and to be on track to earn my bachelor’s in Psychology with a minor in Early Childhood Education this semester, hopefully with a GPA of 3.9 or above. I continue to earn scholarships due to my hard work and dedication and currently have no outstanding student loans. I believe that a commitment to education, hard work, and determination are conducive to academic and professional success. My own investment and interest in my coursework keeps me motivated to work hard, and ultimately, will help me achieve my career goals.