Teaching from the Heart

A family’s love fosters a future teacher’s gift.

Students run around a school gymnasium in active game of freeze tag. In the midst of it all is Sherica – beaming.
Produced by Brian Diggs & Laura Mellett; edited by Brian Diggs; cinematography by Anne Bannister & Brian Diggs

C’Sherica Shaw leads a variety of activities at the Thomas Haley Elementary YMCA afterschool program where she works as a site director.

“Sweeter Than a Cupcake”

For the last three years, C’Sherica has served as a site director for the YMCA afterschool program at Thomas Haley Elementary School in Irving ISD.

Every afternoon, she arrives at the school, and when the dismissal bell rings a stampede of bodies and backpacks floods the gymnasium where she waits for her students.

While taking roll, C’Sherica walks around the room greeting kids with a hug or a high-five and listens while they chat about their day or ask questions about homework.

After the initial wave of energy settles and the students disperse to their assigned spots on the floor, C’Sherica and another director go over the planned activities for the afternoon.

First, there’s snack time. The kids rush to form a (mostly) single file line to pick up their snack.

Next is homework or quiet time. All of the students pull out worksheets, a tablet, or a book. C’Sherica walks from student to student, checking in. She sits or lays next to them on the gym floor so they feel seen and heard. The students flock to her. Everyone wants time with C’Sherica.

After quiet time, C’Sherica leads an arts and crafts project for the students who have finished their homework. She kneels on the activity mat alongside them, coloring and chatting about their interests and dreams.

The programming ends with indoor recess. C’Sherica lets the students pick from a list of four games. They choose “sharks and minnows.” Once again, C’Sherica is right in the middle of the activity.

“She likes to go play with us and have fun,” shares Bryce McLaughlin, a fifth-grade student. When asked to describe C’Sherica in three words, he immediately blurts out, “Sweeter than a cupcake.”

Around 6 p.m., parents trickle in to pick up their kids.

C’Sherica releases a tired, but happy sigh as she tidies up the gym and greets parents. C’Sherica thrives in this environment that would be draining to most others. “I think I like the chaos, honestly,” she says about working with so many students at once. “And then seeing what they do.”

Parents praise the effort C’Sherica invests in her students as individuals.

“She’s like a part of the family,” says Jessica Ivy, whose daughter Opal is in the program. “She goes above and beyond to get to know Opal and who she is, and cultivate her learning skills.”

Alicia Taylor, whose son Dallas also attends the program, echoes the sentiment. “She teaches him his multiplication, which I have struggled to teach him. He always tells me, ‘I can’t wait for Ms. C’Sherica to help me. She really breaks it down for me.’ She has a gift for helping kids.”

C’Sherica’s gift for forming connections was born from a family history of close relationships and second chances.

Sherica poses with her mom, Nina in front of their apartment complex in North Dallas.

C’Sherica fondly remembers her mom, Nina (right), volunteering in her class growing up. As a future teacher, C’Sherica hopes to make her classroom welcome to all families.

Nina Hines gave birth to C’Sherica when she was 15 years old. “She’s my gift,” Nina says.  

“I got married at 17 and then we split by the time I was 18, or 19,” Nina explains matter-of-factly. “I got married too young, everything just happening too fast, too young. Great guy, don’t get me wrong, all that wonderful stuff, but just not great together. We realized, ‘You know what? This is not what we want in life.’”  

She pauses to emphasize the lesson.

“That taught me to teach C’Sherica that it’s okay to quit something that you know you’re not good at. It’s okay to admit that’s not the way you want it to be or it’s okay to go live life in a different way than what the norm says you should. It’s okay to make your own path.”

When C’Sherica was six, Nina met Corey Burrough. “Our first conversation was just letting you know, my daughter is my life.”

Two years later, this second chance at love became the marriage and family Nina had always hoped to create. “It went seamlessly … At the end of the day, it’s us three.”

Corey took to C’Sherica just as warmly, “These two are my everything. I love them beyond anything in my life.”

Nina says open communication – from the hardest lessons to the greatest celebrations – is the secret to the family’s success. She is proud of C’Sherica for applying this skill when working with students.

“There’s nothing too hard or nothing too bad that you can’t say to Ms. Sherica,” Nina says. “You can tell her everything, and she’s not going to judge. Just going to be calm and collected. And then, she may come home and cry her eyes out to us. That’s where we come in, and then we pick her back up, dust her off and send her right back out to go conquer the world again.”

Nina, Corey, and Sherica stand in silhouette against a sunset view of the pond in front of their apartment.

Nina and Corey, parents to C’Sherica, are her ultimate support system. “It’s the three of us against the world,” says Nina.

“Teachers, they leave an impact”

C’Sherica’s best friend is her aunt Gabby, who is only a year-and-a-half older than her.

The two were inseparable growing up. In college, they continued to encourage one another and coach each other across the finish line.

“I graduated with my associate’s a couple of days before she got her bachelor’s, so it was cool — back-to-back.” C’Sherica says, “We got to celebrate together.” Seeing Gabby’s accomplishment encouraged C’Sherica to continue working towards her bachelor’s degree.

Gabby believes C’Sherica will be an excellent teacher. “Teaching is great. It’s one of the most important jobs. Teachers leave an impact. I swear, every person in this world had a favorite teacher that they can remember.”

Her eyes well up with pride as she describes C’Sherica’s interactions with kids, “She listens to them. That’s the biggest thing…. She’s very big on communication. She’s in it with them. It’s very sweet.”

Sherica and Gabby hold up a photo of the two of them as infants.

C’Sherica aunt Gabby is like her sister and best friend.

“Yay with like 45 As”

While in high school, C’Sherica signed up for what she thought was a poetry class on a whim. It turned out to be a speech class with a focus on politics. At first she hated it. But she noticed how her teacher, Mr. Smith, always seemed to know when she needed help, without her needing to ask. He customized assignments depending on what she needed. He made her feel like her opinions mattered.

“I found the best class ever by mistake,” C’Sherica said.

The next year she took an advanced research class with Mr. Smith. He asked all of the students to select a career they might be interested in learning more about and connected them with an internship in that field. C’Sherica chose fashion. During her course, she designed a mock line for plus-size models. She decided to become a fashionista.

Nina laughs remembering C’Sherica’s announcement. “When she said, “I’ve got to go into fashion,” I chuckled on the inside. I did. I was like, ‘I’m going to let her figure it out.’ The only thing I required of her was, ‘You know what, go get a job in fashion. See how you really like it.’”

The class gave C’Sherica the confidence she needed to pursue a career in fashion after high school. She got a job at a clothing store and took another job at the afterschool program just because she always liked being around kids. To her surprise, it was the job at the school that excited her to go to work each day.

At the YMCA afterschool program, C’Sherica fell in love with serving students. When she told her mom she’d changed her major from fashion to teaching, Nina was proud of her for pursuing her calling.

“The light came, she lit up,” Nina remembers. “Every day there’s a story. I think she likes the challenge of it all. The challenge of getting the kid to the next level, watching them grow from here to here. I think it’s wonderful, because we’ve done it in our family, we’ve done it with any kid that’s been in our midst. We’re there. We just are. She’s always been there, but I don’t think she saw it as a super talent. Then she saw how many kids really don’t have that.”

Sherica poses for a photo with her former high school teacher and mentor Chad Smith.

Chad Smith (right) was C’Sherica’s most influential high school teacher and an ongoing mentor today.

When C’Sherica texted Mr. Smith to tell him of her change in career paths, his reaction sealed the deal.

“I think I texted her ‘Yay’ with like 45 As in it because I was really excited for her. Sherica has a real passion for people. She’s always had a kindness, and a patience about her that I think is going to make her an amazing teacher.”

C’Sherica admits she was scared to tell Mr. Smith she decided to move away from fashion. She was afraid he would be upset with her for not committing to the field she had spent so much time researching in his class.

Her fear was unfounded. Proving a teacher’s job never ends, Mr. Smith reassured her she had gotten out of his class all he had hoped.

“I was never excited about you as a fashionista,” he told her. “I was always excited about you as an academic adventurer, someone who is willing to pursue a question and its answer to the end of the line and follow through with commitment. That’s what’s going to make you a great teacher. I can’t wait for your passion to be realized.”