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‘I needed to do something more': Baltimore teacher delivers for her school families

Sarita Sullivan is a special education teacher with the Baltimore City Schools. She is teaching eighth graders via Zoom for summer school. July 16, 2020
Sarita Sullivan is a special education teacher with the Baltimore City Schools. She is teaching eighth graders via Zoom for summer school. July 16, 2020 (Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun)

Sarita Sullivan quit her job in Washington, D.C., five years ago and moved to Baltimore to make a difference in the aftermath of Freddie Gray’s death.

“I felt like I needed to do something more,” she said.

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She quickly fell in love with the city, living in Mount Vernon and Charles Village before moving to her current neighborhood, Midtown.

She became a teacher in the hope of making a difference in the lives of the next generation.

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As a special education teacher, specializing in pre-kindergarten and kindergarten, at Belmont Elementary School in West Baltimore, Sullivan has bonded with her students and their families.

“The whole ... school closure was difficult,” Sullivan said. “I didn’t get to say goodbye to my students. Because working in special ed I became close to the families. It was difficult that I couldn’t see them every day.”

She noticed that a number of her students were having trouble participating in online lessons because they did not have computers or tablets at home. The school had limited resources. And elementary students are often the last in line for technology.

“They want to send it to high school and middle school first,” Sullivan explained. “But we are rich in effort, ingenuity and making the best of what we have.”

Sarita Sullivan is a special education teacher with the Baltimore City Schools. She is teaching eighth graders via Zoom for summer school. July 16, 2020
Sarita Sullivan is a special education teacher with the Baltimore City Schools. She is teaching eighth graders via Zoom for summer school. July 16, 2020 (Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun)

Sullivan’s students desperately needed the technology to assist with their learning.

“My students were struggling making that transition to all technology,” she recalled. “We do everything tactile. Special ed requires multiple ways to learn.”

She immediately started reaching out to her social media network and was able to obtain 15 tablets for her students and other students in her school. The families were overwhelmed.

“One thing that I have learned is do not promise something that you cannot give,” Sullivan said. “A lot of these parents are used to people promising this and that and then nothing happens.”

Sullivan didn’t stop there.

She learned that several of her students had parents who worked in healthcare and at nursing homes and were without face masks.

“Parents were told they needed to reuse masks,” Sullivan recalled. “I shifted from tablets to keeping the families safe.”

Once again she turned to her network. This time she was able to provide 60 masks for five families.

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Ernestine Fequiere’s six-year-old son Elijah was a student of Sullivan’s.

“She’s phenomenal,” she said. “Even before the pandemic, if I had any issues I knew she would be be there.”

Sullivan went above and beyond any of Fequiere’s expectations by getting a tablet for her son and five-year-old daughter Mya.

Fequiere, who works as a transporter at Mercy Hospital, also was grateful for the masks Sullivan was able to give her for work.

“There was a time there was no PPE in the hospital,” the Edmondson Village resident explained.

Fequiere said she was sad knowing her son would not be in Sullivan’s class next year because Sullivan will move to a new school.

“She’s like family,” she said.

Sullivan is proud of the community support.

“This pandemic has really shown the best of people,” Sullivan said. “I have gotten a lot closer to my families.”

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