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Rhyannon Jovan: Helping Young Learners Find Their Authentic Voices

April 14, 2023 | Jeffrey Good

Rhyannon Jovan: Helping Young Learners Find Their Authentic Voices image

To Rhyannon Jovan, there’s nothing more rewarding than helping a young learner find their voice through writing — especially if it’s a voice that’s been squelched through racism, poverty and other forces of exclusion. 

“I’ve worked with so many students who were told they couldn’t do it,” says Rhyannon, who serves as the lead English language arts content coach for Acceleration Academies and works directly with learners in Clark County, Nevada. “That shut them down from wanting to learn, from wanting to try.”

She has dedicated her career to reversing that narrative. 

If Rhyannon is a warrior, she comes by it naturally. As a bright young Black student growing up in the Washington, D.C. area, she earned a scholarship to an elite private high school and succeeded in International Baccalaureate classes — and then she took the Metro home to a more diverse neighborhood compared to those of her classmates and teachers. 

“I had to bridge myself from one world into another. I’ve seen both sides,” she says. Navigating the affluent academic world wasn’t pretty.  More than once, she encountered someone who saw her strong grades or read her eloquent writing, and said to her, “You can’t be a strong student because of who you are. Is this really your writing?”  

Rhyannon Jovan graduation shot

Rhyannon finished her master’s degree in English Language Acquisition and Development at the University of Nevada, Reno in December 2022.

Rhyannon is a second-generation teacher. Her mother never retired, teaching and inspiring until the end of her days. Rhyannon didn’t immediately follow her example, though. She paid her way through college while working full-time at the Big Four accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. She began in pre-med at Rutgers University, then transferred to The University of San Francisco to major in philosophy. 

Shortly before earning her degree, she hit the pause button and embarked on a series of community service positions through AmeriCorps: helping first-generation Latino immigrants find their way into the American educational system, teaching senior citizens how to use the internet, teaching digital art and literacy to second-graders. She finished her undergraduate degree and, in December 2022, her master’s degree in English Language Acquisition and Development at the University of Nevada, Reno. After holding a variety of other teaching positions, remote and in-person, she joined Clark County Acceleration Academies in 2021.

She’s proud to follow her mother’s example and to work with graduation candidates who may not have had positive experiences in English classes before. “I love learning. I love reading, I love writing,” she declares. And most importantly, “I love teaching.” 

One bridge she tries to build is between students’ cultural backgrounds and the way they are encouraged — or not — to express themselves in writing and speaking. She notes that cultures that have been colonized are often forcibly separated from their rich and historic ways of speaking, told instead that they need to learn to speak “proper,” i.e. White. 

“We all have our own linguistic history and that shouldn’t be erased when they walk into the classroom,” says Jovan. 

Rhyannon was recently selected as a Policy Fellow with Teach Plus Nevada and a CEL Fellow of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), working with other leading educators to improve literacy among all learners — and particularly among those from underserved communities. She’s happy to put that learning into practice here. 

“When I discovered Acceleration Academies, I was so excited,” she says. “To change the lives you touch in every way — that’s our superpower.”

Clark County Acceleration Academies accepts new students on a rolling basis. For more information, check out the academy web page and fill out an online enrollment form.

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