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Be inspired to inspire

Dr. LaShanta Williams, EL Coordinator for Rock Island – Milan School district, walks us through her journey from being an obedient student to someone who knew what she wanted, and all the challenges and inspiring moments in between. She shares what Black History Month means to her and encourages others on ways to celebrate. 

“It’s the representation that allows me to dream that could be possible for me. Within everything we do in leadership, we must understand that it matters,” Dr. LaShanta Williams stated as she commemorated the influential African American leaders who impacted her life.  

As many are celebrating Black History this month, Dr. LaShanta shared her life journey from being a student pursuing an education career and how her journey created an inspirational story. 

Dr. LaShanta knew that teaching had been ingrained in her since she was a little girl. 

“Even in elementary school, I’d always play school and be the teacher,” she shared.  

By high school, she became an involved member of the community. 

Metropolitan Youth Program in Rock Island was one of the first programs Dr. LaShanta participated in. She was a member of the drill team and eventually became an important leader for the program.  

“I’ve always worked in leadership, with school, with youth and children,” she said.  

Dr. LaShanta attended Rock Island High School and participated in the Quad Cities Scholar and Minority Teacher Incentive Program, “a program for students who were minorities that wanted to be teachers.” 

The programs were a gateway to bigger possibilities, such as touring colleges and scholarship opportunities, which encouraged Dr. LaShanta even more in pursuing her dream in the education field. 

“We went to visit HBCU, and as I was walking through the campus, I saw faces that looked like mine,” Dr. LaShanta recalled. 

“I came from a humble beginning and didn’t know how I could afford it, I didn’t know how to get there, but seeing these faces on campus, I knew I would get there,” she continued.  

Dr. LaShanta graduated from Rock Island High School in 1994 and attended Western Illinois University on a full scholarship with the help of Golden Apple Scholar (GAS).  


A new chapter

She graduated from WIU in 1998 and started teaching shortly after in Bloomington, Illinois. Her first job came with challenges of its own that led to new opportunities.  

Dr. LaShanta recalled the first time she recognized that her calling may be bigger than just teaching. 

“My first experience was with a student named Elizabeth Haro, (whose second language is English). I felt like I was doing a disservice to her for not knowing how to speak to her. I’d go home and cry,” she stated.  

Around this time, Illinois State University offered cohort classes for teachers on how to work with students whose second language is English. 

Dr. LaShanta shared that she took all the classes, learned what she needed to work with, and began her journey to becoming an EL Bilingual Coordinator. 

“Had I not gotten this, I wouldn’t be in this position and would not have my ESL Endorsement,” she said. 

During her time teaching in Bloomington, Dr. LaShanta mastered in Curriculum and Instruction and Education in Administration.  

Returning to her roots

After teaching for 12 years in Bloomington, it was time for Dr. LaShanta to restrengthen the programs that outset her career, which began when the Minority Teacher Incentive Program was going to be cut at Rock Island High School. 

“I was invited to come back to speak to the school to show them I was living proof that the program works,” Dr. LaShanta said.  

“At that time, I showed them what my credentials were to the HR, the superintendent of that time and the direction of EL,” she continued.  

Through her presentation, the program was not only continued, but she was offered an EL teaching job. She took it without hesitation. 

Dr. LaShanta taught as an EL teacher for two years, until the state of Illinois changed its school language learning policies. 

“The state of Illinois said if you have more than 200 students who are English learners, then the school must have leadership with certain certifications,” she shared.  

She was the only qualified person to be in the leadership position. And it all led back to her willingness and desire to do more for her students, especially those whose primary language isn’t English. 

Greater responsibilities

While earning her Doctorate, Dr. LaShanta also transitioned from being an EL teacher to EL Bilingual Coordinator. She would work with stakeholders, students, families, administration, and school district directors.

Furthermore, Dr. LaShanta role is to be an “expert resource and assisting teachers, making sure their teaching is conducive” and guide them in how they “teach and bring along the language leaner in the process.”  

Through the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), Dr. LaShanta gained connection with World Relief QC, and both organizations have been a helping hand to one another.  

“With our program (IBSE), if we have over 20 students that speak the same language, we must have Bilingual Parent Advisory Committee (BPAC), and with that, the BPAC has to be presented with the bilingual parents,” she shared. 

“It’s been difficult to have parents come in and get involved, getting bilingual parents to have that confidence has been a struggle,” she continued.  

With this challenge, Dr. LaShanta looked for places where bilingual parents were already gathering, which led her to the Family Literacy Program (FLP) through World Relief QC. 

“FLP has the parents, I have the information,” she stated.  

“It’s slowly building confidence. Now that they’ve seen me and go to places together, hopefully out of this group we can have the BPAC president, secretary, etc.,” she continued.  

Celebrating Black History Month

“For me personally, Black History Month is every day. It’s nice to have the month of February to acknowledge it to the world, and to the community,” Dr. LaShanta said.  

The way Dr. LaShanta was inspired by many and had amazing guidance during her school years, she is now inspiring and leading many students to have their own success story. 

“The way I celebrate it is each year we do a Black History Program with the African American Heritage club,” she said. 

“This year, our theme is ‘Come Jam with Us, Music is Food for the Soul’ – our program centered on going through the timeline of African American music, you’ll get snippets of music over the year,” she continued.  

Through the African American Heritage club, members get to go on HBCU and museum trips every year. And this year, the students will be going to Tennessee to tour colleges and visit the national museum of music.  

Dr. LaShanta also shared how she personally celebrates Black History Month.  

“Other ways that I celebrate is by constantly reading biography and historical text on the history of African Americans,” she shared.

“I am currently learning Swahili, I am studying that and the connection of culture, heritage, and languages and how that connects to us here,” she continued.  

Encouragement to others

And for those who’d love to celebrate but unsure on where to begin, Dr.LaShanta encouraged to begin by reading and expanding the knowledge on important historical figures and events.  

“There are key people like MLK and Rosa Parks, but there are so many people who made a difference in our American culture; from music, advocates of civil rights, and educators,” she said. “You can always do research on different individuals.” 

“If you meet someone of African descent, have a conversation with them, if you are curious, have that conversation with them, if you have friends whose African American, they should be open to talk to you,” she continued. 

The true fulfillment

Dr. LaShanta’s journey is full of successes which she continues to pour into the coming generations. However, the one thing Dr. LaShanta is most proud of is being a mom.  

“My favorite is being a mom; I have an 18-year-old son. I’m called many things, but mom is what I am most proud of. He taught me many things,” she said.  

 “When you came to me as a 4th grader, you knew how to read, and I had to teach my own child and he made me a better teacher. What I learn from him, I can use in my classroom. Using those materials, assisting them and learning their language,” she continued.  

This month and every day, we celebrate individuals like Dr. LaShanta and the influence they have on different individuals and organizations in our community. Through her journey, a chain of inspirations can be observed from generation to generation.

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Kler Soe is the Communications Specialist at World Relief Quad Cities. She joined the team after graduating from St. Ambrose University in May of 2023 with a degree in Public Relations and Strategic Communication. As a refugee herself, she hopes to bring awareness to World Relief’s work through stories. 

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