Teaching low-income children is a calling for Sadie Matchett, one that took her by surprise.

One day, she was asked to work with children at her church. She didn’t think she would like it. She found out otherwise.

“The kids left, and I started sobbing,” said the Ball State University junior from the south side of Muncie. “I had the overwhelming feeling I was supposed to be doing work with kids in low-income communities — and children and families specifically.”

Sadie Matchett

Sadie uses her experiences growing up in a poor family to connect with students from low-income neighborhoods.

When she earns her degree in elementary education next year, Sadie will have a perspective not common among teachers. She knows what it’s like to have a home torn apart by addiction. She knows what it’s like to have an absent parent. She knows what it’s like to worry about not having enough to eat.

“I grew up very poor,” she said. “I will tell my kids, ‘I’ve been where you’re at.’”

And she has encountered the same biases.

“Kids who grow up low-income are told they have no chance of success. They’re not instructed to follow their dreams. They are always told to settle,” she said. “I’ve learned that where I come from doesn’t define where I’m going.”

Sadie first came to Ball State in 2012, soon after graduating from Southside High School. At the time, she did not believe she would succeed. And she didn’t. She flunked out.

But after working at a preschool for a few years, she decided to go back to school. She enrolled at Ivy Tech Community College–East Central, then transferred to Ball State in Fall 2016.

A step forward

Sadie took another step toward her dream by working with Eva Zygmunt, Helen Gant Elmore Distinguished Professor of Elementary Education, and participating in the Schools Within the Context of Community program (SCC). During the 16-week, immersive learning experience, 20 elementary educations majors spend their days in a low-income, predominantly African-American neighborhood in Muncie. They learn about children’s lives outside school, which helps them meet their students’ needs in the classroom.

“I am very impressed with Sadie’s persistence, perseverance, and overall resolve,” said SCC co-founder Dr. Eva, as she is fondly called by her students and residents of the Whitely neighborhood. “Sadie exhibits the qualities of resilience that she hopes to build in her students. She has a quiet confidence and exhibits the care and concern for her students that will build the positive relationships integral to her success as a culturally responsive teacher.

“Sadie is an exceptional student who approaches learning with distinct maturity that sets her apart from her peers. She asks important questions and works extraordinarily hard to construct new truths. She is a leader among her peers, and others are drawn to her for guidance. Sadie is a very positive presence yet exudes quiet humility, stepping back so that others can shine.”

In Fall 2017, Sadie experienced how the SCC partners — Ball State, Muncie’s Whitely neighborhood, Longfellow Elementary School, Huffer Memorial Children’s Center, and the Roy C. Buley Community Center — work together. Partnering with a Longfellow teacher, Sadie taught, worked on lesson plans, did network building, and attended committee meetings with the principal. At The Buley Center next door, she listened to lectures, and after Longfellow let out for the day, she worked with students in the Muncie P3 academic enrichment program. She also was matched with a mentor in the Whitely neighborhood and went to community events like spelling bees and chili suppers.

Sadie found neighborhood church services especially instructive. “The preaching is an exciting performance,” she said. “We see how to make learning engaging and bring that engagement back to the classroom.”

Dr. Eva said what Sadie discovered at church services is one of many examples of how students learn outside the classroom. “The beauty of SCC is that it leverages the wisdom, expertise, and cultural wealth of the neighborhood in the training of future teachers, and it enlists community mentors as colleagues. Our students can make their teaching more relevant, engaging, and culturally responsive.”

Sadie said the program challenges elementary education majors like her to examine their own beliefs and confront their own unconscious biases.

Sadie Matchett helps introduce new brand

Sadie (center) represented students at Teachers College when Ball State celebrated the launch of its new brand in Sursa Hall. To her right is Eva Zygmunt, Helen Gant Elmore Distinguished Professor of Elementary Education.

Creating great teachers

“SCC has changed everything,” she said. “Without SCC, I would not have been a bad teacher, but I’m scared to think what kind of a teacher I would have been without it. SCC creates great teachers. It has made me a better person. It’s phenomenal.”

Sadie has done more than become a better teacher, her mentor said; she has grown into an effective advocate. When Sadie spoke to United Way of Delaware County, she inspired donors to contribute to improving literacy among Muncie children. This month, Sadie and SCC faculty will discuss the benefits of authentic community engagement at the Indiana Campus Compact 2018 Service Engagement Summit in Indianapolis.

“Sadie has been an important ambassador for the Schools Within the Context of Community program,” Dr. Eva said. “I look forward to the contribution that Sadie will make to the field, as I know it will be most significant!”

In November 2017, Sadie represented students at Teachers College when Ball State celebrated the launch of its new brand, where a new logo and tagline were unveiled.

“’We Fly’ embodies perseverance and resilience,” Sadie said. “It embodies working through struggles regardless of where you come from or what your background is. Ball State has given me the voice I need to do the work I want to do. It’s empowered me to have the voice to do what I’m passionate about.”