The path to a career in childhood education was not always a clear one for Ja’Keel Daniels, Founding Academic Dean at DREAM Mott Haven Middle School. As a young African-American student navigating the city’s private schools, he says he “struggled to find himself,” choosing to remain close to friends who “weren’t always doing the right things.” His freshman year of high school, Ja’Keel recalls getting kicked out of class a lot, serving detention nearly every day, and ultimately facing expulsion.
Granted the opportunity to remain at school on a probationary basis, Ja’Keel credits two things with helping to change his path: his love of baseball, which led to Division I and professional playing opportunities, and connecting with teachers that shared similar experiences and backgrounds.
“I was a student who did not value the education system, because I felt it did not value me,” he says. “It took being led as an adolescent by professors and mentors that shared the same racial background as me to change my relationship with education.”
Ja’Keel went on to play baseball at both Jackson State and Savannah State, where he earned his bachelor’s degree. He earned his master’s from Relay Graduate School of Education and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in literacy at Hofstra. At Mott Haven, Ja’Keel not only serves as a school dean, but also works within several programs, including the school’s partnership with Breakthrough, which provides a financially supportive and academically rigorous pathway for middle school students who plan to attend independent high schools in the city; Saturday Academy, DREAM Mott Haven’s program that focuses on improving student performance in both math and ELA; and the school’s athletics programs, including flag football, basketball, and of course, baseball.
“The love that was poured into me pushed me to pour into other students who share similar experiences,” says Ja’Keel, who is also in his second year as part of DREAM’s Principal in Residence Program. “This obligation to those that need it has manifested into a seven-year love of being a teacher and administrator.”
You can hear more from Ja’Keel by watching News12’s recent segment on his story.