Bluefield, Virginia (population: 5,444) is the largest town in Tazewell County and located in the heart of the beautiful Appalachian Mountains. The area was once a booming center of the coal mining industry, but has faced a decline in recent years as many of these mines shut their doors, leaving many families struggling to find work. However, these economic setbacks have not dampened the town’s spirits, and many in the community are eager to do their part to revive Bluefield’s business and commerce for future generations.
Enter Valencia Angles, a local teacher of gifted students across Tazewell County. Valencia contacted DreamWakers last Fall, hoping to bring DreamWakers’ speakers virtually into her classroom at Graham Middle School. DreamWakers is a national nonprofit organization that connects classrooms in underserved communities to career role models using video conferencing. DreamWakers’ virtual conversations are known as “flashchats.” Valencia hoped to utilize flashchats to connect her students with professionals working in the public and private sectors, specifically in the medical and engineering fields. More broadly, she hoped to spark interest in new career paths and areas of study by exposing her class to exciting professional opportunities beyond and within their immediate community.
As Valencia’s students hosted flashchats throughout the semester, it became clear they were an exceptionally bright and mature group of scholars. What’s more, students grew more confident in their public speaking skills with each virtual session.
The gifted students at Graham Middle School left an undeniable mark on DreamWakers, as the students were always eager to hear from leaders in all types of careers. The speakers ranged from medical professionals to Karlie Kloss, an internationally renowned supermodel and founder of computer coding initiative Kode with Klossy. In every instance, the flashchat speaker remarked on the poise and preparedness of the students and the intellectual level of their questions.
Inspired by her leadership, DreamWakers selected Valencia to become one of DreamWakers’ first-ever DreamTeacher Fellows (read more about this initiative here). Throughout the Spring 2017 semester, her students hosted a total of 14 flashchats with some of DreamWakers’ top speakers. Their flashchats will continue this Fall, kicking off during the students’ very first week of school.
As part of the Fellows Program, Valencia and her Graham Middle School scholars were invited to join other schools from across the country to participate in a special International Women’s Day partnership between DreamWakers and L’Oréal USA. DreamWakers paired select classes in five different states with inspiring female leaders at L’Oréal USA to expose those students to the range of careers available in the global organization. The Virginia students spoke with Jessica Hauff, Vice President of Digital Marketing at L’Oréal USA. In her virtual conversation with Valencia’s class, Jessica invited the entire group to visit her office in New York City.
DreamTeacher Valencia did not hesitate to say yes to this incredible opportunity for her students. Over the next several weeks, she worked tirelessly to organize and fundraise to make that New York City visit become a reality. The students’ excitement for the trip was palpable as they wrapped up their semester of flashchats — they could not wait to explore the many city sights and meet the L’Oréal team members with whom they had only previously interacted virtually. For much of the group, the trip would be their first time out of the Bluefield region, and the DreamWakers team wanted the trip to be as special as it could be.
On their first day in New York City, the students visited DreamWakers’ office for lunch, enjoyed a walk to Central Park, and played DreamWakers’ new flashchat game. The game, created in collaboration with the Institute of Play, will help all DreamWakers students extend the impact of their flashchat discussions — it is slated to launch in all DreamWakers classrooms this Fall.
Each of the many planned activities led up to the main event — a visit to L’Oréal USA’s new headquarters at Hudson Yards in Midtown Manhattan. The students arrived at the offices unsure of what to expect — but for two months, the DreamWakers team and professionals at L’Oréal had been collaborating to ensure that the students would have the perfect afternoon learning from professionals in the industry. Several of L’Oréal’s leaders were scheduled to speak with the students, including Kristen Comings, Vice President of Integrated Consumer Communications, and Dr. Rocio Rivera, Head of Scientific Communications and a former DreamWakers speaker. The professionals at L’Oréal assisted the students in the creation of “Dream Boards” (physical representations of the students’ goals and dreams), shared their personal and professional journeys with the students, and even offered personal career advice to the young Bluefield residents.
The students ended their trip with one last quick trip to the park and cake from the famous Magnolia Bakery. All too soon, it was time for the students to say good bye and board their bus home. This won’t be the last time DreamWakers works with these incredible students and their visionary teacher. DreamWakers is thrilled to announce that Valencia Angles will be honored with the 2017 Teacher of the Year Award. This award is given to the teacher who best embodies the DreamWakers mission of empowering students to dream big through conversations with real-world professionals using free video chat technology in the classroom. Valencia will be recognized for her leadership in harnessing technology in the classroom at DreamWakers Fall Fundraiser on October 23 in New York City.
Because of their involvement with DreamWakers, each of Valencia’s students now has knowledge of careers that they previously did not know existed, and several are even interested in taking future steps in pursuing them. Most importantly, they learned valuable life lessons in public speaking, asking thoughtful questions, active listening, and gained an ability to make confident connections with others. The entire experience of watching a room full of students grow in their abilities has been a key reminder that there is incredible power found in human connections — even virtual ones.
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