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Inside CPS

News and Stories from across the District

Growing from a CPS Student to a CPS Teacher to a CPS Counselor

08 February 2024

Ms. Marsh feels an immense responsibility to build a personal relationship with each of her students. 

Ms. Marsh

When Ms. MaToya S. Marsh holds initial meetings with prospective students at Simpson Academy for Young Women, the first question she always asks them is: “What do you want to do when you graduate?” She often hears about goals that they used to have but no longer feel are attainable because they have become a parent. She lets them know that even though their journeys to reaching their goals may look a little different, she is going to work with them to create a plan to get there. 

Simpson is the only CPS school specifically for pregnant and parenting teens. It is one of the District’s smaller high schools, so Ms. Marsh explains that she feels an immense responsibility to build a personal relationship with each student. 

“Our school is small, but we’re so mighty,” she said. “People in education always say that the work is bigger than you, but, in this place, it truly does feel that way.” 

Ms. Marsh recently attended her high school class reunion, highlighting 25 years since she graduated from CPS herself. At this event, she found an old school newspaper. She had been interviewed as the class vice president, and she shared that she wanted to teach high school English after she graduated. She doesn’t remember this interview, but it ended up foreshadowing her first job after college. 

As an English teacher at several CPS high schools, including Hyde Park Academy, where she had graduated from, she found her energetic and engaging personality to be a big asset. In fact, she recalls that she built connections with many students who weren’t even students in her class. When she realized that students genuinely respected and valued the direction she was giving them, she started to think that it might be a good idea to pivot away from being a classroom teacher. 

“As I reflected on my own high school years, I realized that counselors truly impacted the decisions that people made,” she said. “This shaped my own goal of eliminating ceilings and barriers for my students whenever I can.” 

She has been a member of the Simpson community for nearly four years now and still strives to bring the same level of energy that she did earlier in her career to every school day. Her energy is maternal and passionate, creating a comfortable environment that encourages each student to be their best. She notes that an important skill she has learned while at Simpson is the importance of balancing believing in empathy and accountability. She believes that an impactful counselor knows how to be empathetic while also teaching students how to hold themselves accountable both inside and outside of the classroom. 

While her approach to counseling hasn’t drastically changed over the past several years, she says that certain aspects of Simpson certainly have. For one, the school’s demographics have changed as the school has welcomed newcomer students. She gives a lot of praise to her students, explaining that they’ve embodied the school’s core values to contribute to a culturally sensitive and inclusive environment for their new peers. 

She also has seen an increase in the number of students advocating to come to Simpson as a bridge to help them achieve their future goals. Not only are they drawn to the school because of its focus on pregnant and parenting teens, but also because they have researched the resources and supports it can provide that can lead to post-secondary success. 

“We have students who come in with very low GPAs or credit deficits and we provide the support that gets them on track to graduate,” she said. “We also try to meet the needs of the whole child. For example, we can secure housing partnerships for students who are facing housing insecurity.” 

Simpson has also emphasized rigorous coursework through dual credit and dual enrollment courses. Dual credit courses are offered at Simpson through the school’s partnership with City Colleges of Chicago. And dual enrollment courses are offered through colleges like the University of Illinois Chicago and Chicago State University. 

Ms. Marsh recalls that Simpson’s most recent valedictorian and salutatorian took public speaking classes at Chicago State. She says that she could tell because their speeches were incredibly moving. This is just one example of how she and the rest of the team at Simpson empower students to graduate with a skill set that will benefit them for the rest of their lives. 

“I always tell my students not to let yesterday dictate what needs to get done today,” she said. “They should always remember to show up as their authentic selves and exercise empathy, but also never fall short on accountability.”

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