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Rodney and Nicole

The man who has no imagination has no wings.

-  Muhammad Ali



Teacher Spotlight - Rodney Decipeda

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“I’m a fan of E CITY because…

            ...it gives the students a vision for what their life could be using the entrepreneurial mindset, instead of settling for being stuck with what’s around them.” 

All of the students who were in Rodney Decipeda’s E CITY class at Lincoln

         Finalist with Rodney

West High School are at the poverty level economically, and qualify for free lunches.  Several do not live with their fathers. Most have extended family living with them, including other kids with whom they share just one parent.  Several are Latin American, one is native African, one is from Jordan and a few are African American.  The diverse group was connected by a common thread- an adult in each home who is supportive of their participation in the E CITY program.
Rodney has always wanted to work with this population.  He made a career change from youth ministry to education because he felt he could touch more lives in that way.  He could have accepted offers to teach in the suburbs, but wanted to be in the inner city where he might “…give these kids some hope and the skills needed to survive.”

Rodney and student working on business plan
"And that’s what E CITY is all about, too,” he adds.  Rodney feels blessed that the school principal selected him to teach the school’s first E CITY program, in just his second year of teaching at Lincoln West.  “I could tell from the get-go that this was a high-quality, meaningful program, and they (John Zitzner, Scott Arthur and Nicole Lawrence) were very professional.  My first impression was that it was an incredible opportunity for students to get life skills they wouldn’t get in the classroom or at home.”
Rodney attended a Certified Entrepreneurship Training workshop in August and then taught the 70-hour curriculum to eight students in an after-school format, five days each week from September through December.
“We tell the kids on the first day ‘You are here because I believe in you, because John Zitzner believes in you and because E CITY believes in you.’  And we established a good classroom community.”
Rodney thinks the curriculum is well-received because these students want to be challenged and they are excited by the idea of learning to run their own businesses.  They see the chance to use their creativity and the freedom that comes with that.  They can see the pay-off of their hard work.
He feels that many kids get comfortable in poverty and they just settle for it.  “But they can be great,” he says.  “They just need a push and encouragement.”  He knows E CITY can teach kids to break the pattern of not finishing what they start, and of quitting when they are challenged.
Is it “uncool” to be in the E CITY class at Lincoln West?  Quite the opposite, according to Rodney.  “They know they are learning things that others are not, and they are proud,” he explains.  And, word of the class spread quickly through the school.  These days you’ll hear other students saying “…only E CITY kids get to learn that…” with a hint of envy.

        Rodney at LMM graduation

Rodney is a teacher who makes you want to be a teacher too, when you witness his clear and passionate commitment to students.  Yet, he attributes the success of his E CITY class to the staff that went beyond his expectations in their gestures of support.  He describes the monthly teacher meetings with John Zitzner and the frequent visits from John, Scott and Nicole in this way:  “It’s like you’re a tire with a leak in it, and then they pump you up.  They remind you you’re not alone.  The students felt that way, too.”

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