Se-an McDonald - Why I Believe Memphis Academy

Se-an McDonald graduated from the University of Tennessee - Knoxville with a degree in special education. He joined Teach For America to come back to his hometown of Memphis and join the movement for equity in education in Memphis. Mr. McDonald brings strong knowledge in special education law and best practices and joins Believe with the ambition to build the best special education program in the city that truly serves ALL students.

Se-an McDonald graduated from the University of Tennessee - Knoxville with a degree in special education. He joined Teach For America to come back to his hometown of Memphis and join the movement for equity in education in Memphis. Mr. McDonald brings strong knowledge in special education law and best practices and joins Believe with the ambition to build the best special education program in the city that truly serves ALL students.

Where I am from and how I was raised has so much to do with why I became involved in education. I was born in Memphis, Tennessee and raised by a single mother who made sure that I received a quality education at a very young age. I started out at a Montessori school and attended all boys’ private schools from kindergarten to 8th grade. I was one of three black boys who attended during my time in private education. I was living in an all-black community and attending an all-white school in the city of Memphis. A major culture shock was had when I transferred to public school for 9th grade. I started to see some significant differences in the way students were being educated and the environments we were in. How can schools so close together be so different at the same time? Fast forward a few years, I was really unsure during my freshman year of college about what I wanted to do as a career.

My education journey started in the small town of Randleman, North Carolina where I worked as a summer camp counselor for children with moderate to severe chronic illnesses throughout undergrad.  Victory Junction Camp sparked my passion for serving individual with unique needs and disabilities. Soon after that experience I graduated from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville with a Bachelor’s in Special Education and went on to teach in my home city of Memphis. Through Teach For America as a 2012 Corp Member, I was the first in the program to ever teach in a self-contained setting including students with severe physical and cognitive disabilities. After my 4th year as an Adaptive Functional Skills teacher, I joined TFA Memphis staff as an Instructional Coach, primarily coaching and developing new special education teachers in the Memphis area. During my time as a coach for TFA Memphis, I created a program that supported teachers working with a wide range of students with diverse needs.

I decided to join the founding team of Believe Memphis Academy, because I am tired and frustrated about a system that does not work for a large population of students here in this city. I joined this work because I have a true passion for education and the students in it, but that passion gets crushed when the current systems don’t do what’s best for kids and their families. Believe Memphis just wants to educate the right way. Believe Memphis wants to show the world what’s possible. Believe Memphis believes that all kids can be met where they are, and taught the skills needed to be successful in this world. I want to be a part of that. I want education professionals from all around the world to come and see what we are doing to support all students successfully. 

This work is so special to me because I am doing it in a city that I was born in and have lived in for most of my life. I love our food (BBQ capitol of the world), our slang (wassup mane), and our music (Yo Gotti) just to name a few of my favorite Memphis attributes. Memphis is home to me, and I am proud of its culture and heritage, but also aware of the impact that much of its history has on our students of today. Memphis is great city with a hurtful past of segregation which is still a significant part of our school systems as a whole. I teach to change the future of our students and what’s possible for them. I believe that Memphis is at the forefront of education reform in this country, and that its going to take special people with a ton of support to complete the job of giving every kid options and opportunities.

Danny Song