Gradient Conversations: "Give back as you climb"

"Give back as you climb"

At the end of his junior year at Virginia Tech, Justin Sinclair was a college football player without a clear vision of his future.

That changed when the team’s chaplain approached Sinclair at practice one day and asked, “If there was no such thing as money, what would you be happy getting up and doing every day?”

After two days of deep reflection, Sinclair had an answer.

“I said, ‘I would be happy getting up and giving young people the same opportunity to change their trajectory like I did,’” Sinclair said.

Sinclair calls education “my passport” because of all the doors it opened for him as a student-athlete and how his experiences inspired him to be an educator. One of his favorite quotes is from Frederick Douglass, who escaped slavery to become a national leader in the abolitionist movement in the late 1800s.

“He said, ‘It’s easier to build strong children than to rebuild broken men,’” said Sinclair, a School & District Success Manager at Gradient Learning. “That’s a quote that I anchor on a lot in my life because it’s extremely important to be intentional at the beginning stages of a young person’s life, to set a clear path for them.”

Sinclair shared these reflections during a recent chat with his colleague Alexius Thomas, a Curriculum Specialist at Gradient Learning. Similar to Sinclair, Thomas credits her scholastic journey—and the adults who taught her—with helping forge her passion-filled path to being an educator.

“In my family, I was the first one to graduate high school, the first to go to college, the first to purchase a home,” Thomas said. “I had teachers that believed in me and told me that they saw something special and that I was intelligent. Seeing how education has allowed me to change the trajectory of my life lets me know that it is possible and fuels my passion to give back to others.”

From the second grade through college, Thomas played the flute and strongly believes those years in the marching band helped form the whole person she’s become.

“When thinking about the whole student, it’s more than just math, science, social studies, and reading,” Thomas said. “It’s finding ways to connect and resonate with students. To spark those passions, to really figure out what we want out of life.”

Sinclair, a father to a young son, is grateful to work for an organization that is determined to help reimagine the educational system that his child will soon enter.

"Seeing how education has allowed me to change the trajectory of my life lets me know that it is possible and fuels my passion to give back to others."

Alexius Thomas

“I think the direction that we’re headed in education is a positive one,” Sinclair said. “I think we’re having some honest conversations about the things that have been effective and successful in our approach to education, but we’re also not fearful to call out the opportunities for growth. That’s a unique space that we’re in.”

Thomas is excited to do her part in helping other young students find their purpose in life.

“What really makes the ‘whole student’ stand out to me is the inclusion of identity,” Thomas said. “Bringing in students’ own unique perspectives and backgrounds in their learning. (It’s) preparing students with every aspect of learning that they need in order to thrive as adults with whatever they want to do in their lives.”

This is the first in a series of Gradient Conversations that we’ll be sharing. Be on the lookout for more coming soon and continue the conversation in your own community.