Nadia Lopez

Every year the Varkey Foundation awards the Global Teacher Prize to one deserving school educator. The  $1 million prize is to be used however the winner sees fit.

Nadia Lopez, Mott Hall Bridges Academy principal and member of Council of School Supervisors & Administrators (CSA), AFSA Local 1, was one of the 50 global finalists and one of eight American finalists to make the short list for the award.

As founding principal of Mott Hall Bridges Academy in Brownsville, Brooklyn, her motivation behind opening her own academy was to “open a school to close a prison.” Brownsville is known for being one of the rougher underprivileged neighborhoods in New York City. Virtually every student who attends her academy lives below the poverty line. Lopez fights to give her students the same opportunities and quality education that children with more privileged upbringings receive.

Through her curriculum, Lopez stresses the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) programs, while also emphasizing art. STEM fields have fallen by the wayside in most schools. Not devoting enough attention to these fields harms more than just students. STEM professions are projected to be the most valued over the next decade. Companies are on the cusp of developing driverless cars, new serious illnesses are developing every day, and vast amounts of infrastructure is quickly becoming outdated. Lopez has prioritized the skills necessary to address these needs and has placed them at the forefront of her programs.

One of Lopez’s most interesting teaching tools is her entrepreneurship course. Even though her students are only in middle school, Lopez coaches her students in performing lifelike scenarios in which students simulate starting their own company and actively participating in financial literacy assignments. Lopez believes in being an extremely hands-on principal. She thinks it is vital that her students have the chance to engage and interact with her as much as possible.

Lopez takes every opportunity presented to her to weave prestigious universities and corporations into her syllabus. Last year, she decided to raise funds to bring her scholars on an educational field trip to Harvard University. With the help of the popular online blog “Humans of New York,” the fundraiser went viral and became a huge success. Within 45 minutes her school had exceeded its $100,000 goal, and within two months had raised $1.1 million. Since then, she has been featured on the "Ellen" show, BBC, has given her very own TED talk and been recognized by President Obama.

Her innovations have led her to being recognized by Sunny Varkey of the Varkey Foundation. Varkey and Lopez crossed paths when Lopez was speaking at the Harvard Global Initiative Conference last spring. To be nominated for the prize, teachers must be currently achieving excellence outside of the classroom, encouraging others to join the teaching field, participating in innovative methods of teaching and guaranteeing that students are receiving a “value-based” education that prepares them for real-world scenarios. The Mott Hall principal considers her job “a labor of love.”

Lopez said that if she had won, she would have recycled a lot of the money back into Mott Hall Bridges Academy. The money would have allowed new travel programs for students, and would have provided the school the ability to further develop its professional development department. She believes it is an important part of the growing process to venture outside of New York to expand students’ learning and engage them in distinctive experiences.

Even though Lopez was not the winner of the Global Teacher Prize, she has surely not gone unrecognized for her achievements. AFSA is incredibly proud of all the hard work and dedication that  Lopez has provided for her school community.