An interview with Jayla Turner, Educational Change Intern, and Joel Tolman, Director of Impact & Engagement
Ms. Darlitha Busby joined Common Ground’s special education team early in the school year, but she’s the kind of person who seems like she’s always been part of our school community. She earned the nickname “Queen Bee” or “Momma Buzz” at her previous school – partially a reference to her name, partially to her ability to create a “bee hive” where students feel safe and supported, able to do their best work.
We see evidence of Ms. Busby’s care and community-building every day! She tends to create “calm out of chaos,” and “do everything with love and caring,” as she likes to put it. One example: Last month, Ms. Busby had an asthma attack in the middle of the school day. Students were worried and anxious, and Ms. Busby stopped – on her way to emergency care – to make sure one student who was particularly upset knew she was going to be fine. “He made me cry. I had to reassure him that I would be o.k., that he would see me the next day. The first thing he did when he came in the next day was come to my room, to make sure I was o.k. I was there, like I promised!”
This week, Ms. Busby sat down with Educational Change Intern Jayla Turner and staff member Joel Tolman for a conversation about what brought her to Common Ground! She started the interview with questions of her own – asking Jayla about the internship, and what motivated her to take part. “I was just curious – I like to get in kid’s heads, get to know who they are.”
Ms. Busby’s Path to Common Ground
I’m a teacher, though not always in a classroom. My undergraduate degree is in special education, and my graduate degree is in counseling. When I graduated from college in 1981, I went into social services, working with people with disabilities.
Before COVID hit, I was at Great Oaks Charter School. I was hired when the school first opened, and I worked there for 6 years. I liked the fact that it was grassroots, and got a chance to see it grow. My kids who came in as 6th graders are now seniors, and I am really excited to be able to go back for their graduation. Eventually, I moved into a role where I was a bridge between school culture and social work, trying to help things de-escalate before they became a discipline issue. I really value the relationships I built there.
Right before I came to Common Ground, I was at Chapel Haven, helping adults on the spectrum, and with disabilities of all sorts, get on paths to employment. This fall, I was minding my business at Chapel Haven, and I was asked to consider applying to Common Ground. I was honored to think that someone would think I would be an asset.
Ms. Busby’s Work at Common Ground
I want to be everything to everybody! Even though I am officially the 12th grade special education teacher, I value building relationships with everyone. It’s just how I’m set up, that I’ll go all in. I try to do everything with love and kindness.
My goal is to bring calmness to chaos. When things are disjointed or out of whack, I try to be the stabilizer. I have an energy that will calm things when they get crazy.
I get up every morning, excited to come here. I love what I do, and I do exactly what I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve gotten a chance to learn so many things, like sign language. The only thing I would like to do that I haven’t: I would love to learn Braille.
Ms. Busby’s Life Outside of School
I love to do shopping therapy! I’m a consignment shop person. If Saturday is nice, I’ll pick up my mom and my sister, and we’ll go together.
Helping kids and people is in my blood, so I do it on my own time too. For four and a half years, I tutored at Stetson Branch Library. I also worked at a tutoring organization called Muck Mud. We started with 4 or 5 kids, and built it up to 40-50. That work taught me I could make a difference as a special educator.
At the time, I was just a tutor, but I was able to sit in on a phone call with a family and the student school as a special education representative for the child. I was able to have a test redone for this kid, and asked these questions the mom didn’t know to ask, so they could get the support they need.
Working with the founder of Muck Mud, Kevin Muhammed, inspired me to start my own tutoring organization, called L.A.I.D., LLC. It’s named after my husband, son, daughter, and me – Lee, Aaron, Iris, Darlitha – and is based on the idea that you cannot go anywhere without a foundation being L.A.I.D.
I was born in Atlanta, Georgia, the oldest of 6 kids. I grew up in New Haven, and went to Richard C. Lee High School. I have one son who’s 25, and a daughter who’s 27.
What Ms. Busby Is Excited About Right Now
I find the reading lab that I help to teach, and APEX online courses, two of the most interesting processes I’ve seen in a long time. Reading lab does so much to develop people’s reading levels. and APEX allows kids who work better on their own to do so – those are good moves. I would love to see students be able to get college credit for some of these self-paced APEX courses, like psychology or sociology. These sorts of independent, self-paced, and small group learning opportunities are very much needed. Kids get so frustrated in the big setting, but I can help them in the small setting. It also makes a difference that I get to co-teach it – Ms. Townsend, one of our English teachers can lead a lesson, and I can put my special ed spin on it make it accessible.