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Never Quit winner provides ‘safe space,’ ‘comfort’ to D.C. elementary school students

Saqiyna Gray, known as “Ms. K” at Stanton Elementary in Washington, D.C., is a paraprofessional/small group reading specialist. (Photo credit: Javier Pierrend)
By AFSCME Staff ·

Jessica Salute, a teacher at Stanton Elementary School in Washington, D.C., recalls a student asking her who the principal was.

“Who do you think it is?” Salute replied.

She found it both funny and revealing that the student wondered out loud if the school’s principal was “Ms. K.”

Saqiyna Gray, known as “Ms. K” to students and their families at Stanton Elementary, is a paraprofessional/small group reading specialist. But everyone around her, including the principal, Harold McCray, agrees that she is so much more than that.

“I feel like Ms. K is really like the heartbeat of Stanton,” he says. “Ms. K to the students is a safe space. She’s the one that they’ll turn to if they’re having troubles, if they feel scared or they’re worried about something. She’s a comfort for them. I’ve never seen someone work as hard as her. She’s one of the first ones here and one of the last ones to leave.”

For her service to her community, Gray, a member of AFSCME Local 2921 (District Council 20), is a winner of our union’s Never Quit Service Award, which recognizes public service workers who go above and beyond the call of duty to make their communities better.

“Ms. K, to me, has this uncanny ability to be firm but so nurturing at the same time,” Salute says. “She just has it so naturally, and so for the kids, I think they feel the ultimate comfort with her because they know she expects so much from them, but she follows that up with all the care, love and respect that they need.”

Every day, Gray visits different classrooms and works one-on-one with students who need additional reading help. But she aims to be more than that for them, and the students seem to appreciate being able to confide in her and find an empathetic ear.

“I feel like when you take that extra step it lets them know that they have someone that has their back,” Gray says. “I want to make sure when my students leave here that they have the skills to be able to go out into the community, go out into the world, and spread more leadership, and spread more things that they learned here while with me and with this school.”

Fatmata Jarr, a former student, says Gray had a huge impact on her life.

“I didn’t look at her as my teacher, I looked at her as like a mom,” Jarr says. “So, she really means the world to me, and I really love her so much.”

Gray, who grew up in Southeast D.C., where the school is located, knows firsthand the sometimes difficult circumstances that students confront in their neighborhoods. She says she is proud to be able to make a difference here.

“I feel like sometimes this community gets overlooked because of this rep that’s out there that it’s a poor and bad community,” she says. “It’s not. I feel richness when I look at my brown families and I feel the love. I also feel their need, I also feel their anger sometimes when, you know, sometimes the streets are too chaotic.

“But I’m here to stand in this community with this community and say, I’m not going anywhere,” she says. “I’m going to stand in the thick of it with you and we can do great things together, we can show what Southeast is really about.”

Never Quit Service Awards

Do you know a co-worker who goes above and beyond the call of duty to make their community better? Nominate them for AFSCME’s Never Quit Service Award.

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