McKenzie’s Journey

March 21, 2024
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In the bustling borough of Brooklyn, amidst the vibrant tapestry of cultures and dreams, Yaritza Villalba emerged as more than a high school teacher. Her trajectory from the confines of a classroom to the expansive realm of global collaboration epitomizes the transformative power of education.

In this episode, McKenzie’s Journey (Episode 131), she invites fellow educators and learners alike to embark on a transformative journey of discovery, collaboration, and advocacy. With an impassioned voice and a fervent belief in the potential of every child, Yaritza is redefining the role of educators in shaping a more inclusive and empathetic society.

Here are the key ideas we took away from this episode:

  • Yaritza's educational odyssey began with humble yet profound influences. As an immigrant, her sister served as her first beacon of learning, igniting a spark of curiosity through playful role-playing sessions of "school." This early mentorship laid the foundation for Yaritza's unwavering commitment to education, encapsulated in her poignant belief that "we become educators because someone shined the light on the profession for us."
  • Guided by mentors like Miss Bristol, who recognized the importance of cultural assimilation while fostering a deep appreciation for African American literature and poetry, Yaritza embarked on a literary journey that would inspire her own creative endeavors. Through her book series, "McKenzie's Adventures," she amplifies diverse voices and narratives, ranging from untold stories of heroic people of color to a celebration of Afro-Latino culture and a poignant exploration of identity and oppression.
  • Embracing the transformative potential of technology, Yaritza leverages artificial intelligence (AI) as a tool for educational empowerment. In her vision, AI serves not as a stand-in for teachers but as a catalyst for personalized learning experiences, enabling students to tutor themselves and fostering a culture of curiosity and self-advocacy.
  • At the forefront of Yaritza's mission lies a commitment to fostering global collaboration and empathy. Through initiatives like the Global Music Exchange and student-led podcasts, she empowers young minds to transcend geographical boundaries, amplify their voices, and advocate for change through the universal language of creativity.

In her impassioned keynote addresses and literary endeavors, Yaritza champions the inherent creativity and resilience of every individual, urging educators to embrace diverse perspectives and celebrate the richness of collective experiences. As she continues to illuminate the path for future generations, her message resounds with unwavering clarity: education is not merely a gateway to knowledge but a beacon of hope and empowerment for all.

Check out the full podcast for all the details: YouTube | Spotify | Apple Podcasts

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Education Leaders

About the Author

About the Authors

Jerri Kemble

National Academic Advisor



Jamie Saponaro

Director of Community & Professional Learning



Learning and always growing, Jamie Saponaro is an educator with a passion for sharing topics in education that are near and dear to her heart. Her background as an instructional strategies consultant, educational coach and mentor, technology administrator, and middle school teacher have brought her to ClassLink as Director of Community and Professional Learning where she co-hosts the LinkedUp podcast and its boundary-breaking guests.