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Take Five with Yolanda Powell: Special Education Teacher at Bronzeville Scholastic Institute

11 November 2022

In honor of Veterans Day, meet Ms. Yolanda Powell — a 28-year military veteran and special education teacher and case worker at CPS.

A headshot of Yolanda Powell

Take Five is a series that highlights some of the many CPS staff members who are going above and beyond for our schools. If you know someone who is making a difference, nominate them to be featured here.

This week, in honor of Veterans Day, we are pleased to introduce you to Ms. Yolanda Powell, a 28-year military veteran and special education teacher and case worker at Bronzeville Scholastic Institute. Ms. Powell also serves as the lead of her school’s Behavioral Health Team, where she is able to provide extra resources and support to students who are struggling.

A graduate of Chicago Public Schools, Ms. Powell began working in the District as a special education teacher in early 2004. She was also a member of the U.S. Army Reserve at the time, and after only 20 days in the classroom, Ms. Powell was mobilized. She was deployed to a stateside military base, where she trained soldiers who were preparing to be sent overseas. 

Once her service was complete, Ms. Powell picked up where she had left off with a career in special education. She eventually became a citywide teacher serving multiple high schools on Chicago’s South Side, including her alma mater, Lindblom Math and Science Academy. She then worked at the elementary school level for a few years before taking on her current role at Bronzeville Scholastic Institute. 

What led you to pursue a career in special education?

I used to say I would never be a teacher. My mom even suggested it to me when I went to college, and I said, “no, thank you!” But things changed after my son was born premature. He was 1 pound, 14 ounces when he was born, and he needed a lot of support, like occupational and speech therapy. Through that process of trying to get my son the developmental resources he needed, I saw up-close how big of a need there was in this field, and it inspired me to go back to school to earn my Masters in Special Education.

How does your experience in the military impact your approach as an educator?

I use a lot of the skills I developed in the military in my day-to-day life, such as my ability to collaborate, keep students engaged, and coordinate a team of people who are all working toward a common goal. A lot of the students I work with are facing really difficult circumstances, and it requires a lot of teamwork in order to meet their needs and help them grow. I love seeing that light-bulb moment with a kid, whether it’s grasping an academic concept or developing their social-emotional skills. 

What do you like to do outside of work?

I love to hang out with my girlfriends and my family, and I’m a huge fan of concerts and movies. I would love to spend more time with my son, but he’s living in Seattle and is very busy with law school. I love the little things. I had breast cancer last year, and it was very difficult for me. So now I really cherish life and any opportunity I have to simply enjoy living. I love to listen to the birds when I’m on a walk. I like to drive and notice things I’ve never noticed before. And now I talk to my mom every day instead of waiting until the weekend. 

What advice would you like to give your younger self?

Save more money! Seriously though — while there are some things I would tell myself not to do, I wouldn’t tell my younger self to go a different way. Everything the younger version of me did created the person I am today. And I’m good with who I am and what I do.

What possession could you absolutely not live without and why?

It’s not a possession, but after last year, I can’t live without my inner peace and joy. Other than that, everything else can go if it needs to — besides my Bible and coffee. I do need those!

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