February 17, 2021
Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC/CUNY) alumnus Jamel Holmes (Early Childhood Education, ‘12) is known for going above and beyond for his students.
He has taken the boys in his classes at the East Bronx Academy for the Future to get free haircuts at his own local barber shop in the Bronx, and during the pandemic, through the non-profit organization Donors Choose, he has raised funds to buy school supplies, clothing, laundry essentials, care packages and food for his students—then he personally drives through the Bronx and drops off the supplies at their homes.
“One thing we were able to do is have a virtual paint party, to support students taking classes from home,” Holmes says. “I dropped off bags for each student with snacks and paint, then we had a zoom session where we painted together.”
For his innovative approach to supporting students, Holmes was recognized on National Teacher’s Day, October 5, 2020 on The Drew Barrymore Show.
“I want to be that role model that students can have conversations with, about whatever’s happening in their lives,” Holmes says in that interview. “Many of our students come from one-parent homes, so I want to be that person that they can go to for things outside the classroom that are making it hard for them to do well in school.”
A love of learning evolved into a career in education
Jamel Holmes grew up in the South Bronx, the youngest of five children. “On rainy days I would take this portable table we had out to the hallway of our building, and get the neighbor’s kids to do spelling tests with me. I’d give them paper and share prizes and things I had won, to motivate them.”
Holmes was eight when he began that enactment of the classroom, and his interest in motivating others has grown since then into a career in education.
Set to graduate in May 2021 with a Master of Education Administration as School Building Leader (Educational Leadership) at Lehman College, CUNY, Holmes already holds a Master of Science in Special Education from Lehman, as well as a Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies from The City College of New York, CUNY.
He started his higher education career with an Associate of Science in Early Childhood Education from Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC/CUNY).
“BMCC has this motto, ‘Start here, Go anywhere,’ and I think I lived that, as I went through what I call the ‘CUNY pipeline,’” he says.
Now moving closer to his goal of serving as a public school principal, Holmes holds the position of sixth-grade special education teacher at East Bronx Academy for the Future—where he himself graduated in 2008.
“It feels meaningful to be working there,” he says. “My former teachers and coaches are my colleagues. It’s a community I care about, and the pandemic has heightened my determination to ensure that young people have a learning experience that speaks to their strengths.”
As a future school principal, Holmes wants to scale up high-impact programs
“I believe not just in building up the academic component,” says Holmes. “I truly believe in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs,” the theory that people must have basic needs like food and safety met, before they can achieve things like love and self-actualization.
“Before I push students into higher-order thinking, I want to make sure they have their basic needs met,” he says.
And to ensure that not just his students, but students across an entire school receive this kind of support, Holmes is pursuing a career as a public school principal.
“Over the years, I’ve often thought about the impact of our support on students,” he says. “I’ve thought about how, as a school principal, I could take some of what I’m doing for my classes, up to a larger scale.”
Also, he says there is a need for Black male leadership. “Children are not seeing us as role models in those positions and I want to help change that.”
In 2017, Holmes was the first Lehman College student to receive the prestigious Peter Greeman Scholarship, which helped cover the cost of tuition for his first master’s degree at Lehman College. This award is given to master’s degree candidates teaching in a New York City public school, and Holmes was then working at P.S/M.S. 29, the Melrose School in the Bronx.
“Growing up in a single-parent household, I wanted to be that male role model for our younger students,” Holmes says in a 2018 interview about the award, with News12 Best of the Bronx. “I want to provide mentorship for our young Black boys and help create this culture where we’re breaking barriers for our youth.”
Mentors at BMCC and beyond have deepened Holmes’ academic journey
Holmes is a member of NYC Men Teach, a partnership between CUNY, the Office of the Mayor and the New York City Department of Education. This initiative has helped add more than 1,000 male teachers of color into the teacher pipeline—an accomplishment that resonates with Holmes’ experience at BMCC, where he met his mentor, Professor Jean-Yves Plaisir.
Plaisir’s grant-funded research has centered around the need to increase men’s participation—it hovers at about three percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics—in the early childhood education workforce.
“Jean Plaisir made me realize how important it was that children see more men, and more men of color, leading their classes,” says Holmes. “This deepened my sense of purpose, in the internship I had at the BMCC Early Childhood Center.”
Guided by Early Childhood Center Director Cecilia Scott-Croff, Holmes took part in professional development on curriculum building for children and supervision in the classroom.
BMCC is also where Holmes became friends with a classmate who was working in a pre-school through the Harlem’s Children’s Zone. Impressed by his friend’s experience working with children, Holmes switched his major from Liberal Arts to Early Childhood Education and began working at the Harlem’s Children’s Zone, himself.
Another important mentor, he says, is Christopher Emdin; social critic, professor and Associate Director of the Institute for Urban and Minority Education at Teachers College, Columbia University.
“Emdin wrote the New York Times bestseller, ‘For White Folks Who Teach In the Hood and the Rest of Ya’ll Too,’ and he was my seventh-grade teacher,” Holmes say. “Our connection pushed me into wanting to be a role model, providing mentorship. He motivated us, as young people, to change the world and dress well doing it—and this relates to my taking my students at the Bronx Academy, to the barber.”
Ultimately, Holmes says, reading Emdin’s work as well as his own experiences working with students in a variety of settings, “has got me thinking about walking in our students’ shoes, believing in what they can accomplish and allowing our students to see there are people in positions of leadership, that look like them.”
- Jamel Holmes (Early Childhood Education, ‘12) teaches sixth grade special education at East Bronx Academy for the Future, where he himself graduated in 2008
- After BMCC, he earned a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Studies at City College of New York, CUNY and Masters in Special Education at Lehman College, CUNY
- In May, he will earn a second master’s degree, in Educational Leadership, at Lehman College