Building Tomorrow’s Leaders on Chicago’s West Side
SCHOOLS | May 6, 2021
Building Tomorrow’s Leaders on Chicago’s West Side

When Ms. Tolulope Solola realized that she would be teaching remotely for more than just a few weeks, one of the first things she did was return to her school, Frazier International Magnet School in North Lawndale. She filled little plastic bags with materials and instructions so her middle school students could complete science labs at home. 

While she was determined to make sure they would still have hands-on learning opportunities, deep down she was pretty bummed out. Not everything can be sent home, and she worried that her instruction wouldn’t be enough to keep her students engaged. 

Fast forward to a remote session with her eighth-graders. Each one of them had a yardstick and some yarn to create a makeshift scale. They tied a balloon on each end of the yardstick and popped one of the balloons to answer the question: “Is air matter?” While an incredibly simple lab, Ms. Solola says her students had a blast doing it, even from home. 

“This year has taught me that your stamina and perseverance do not go unnoticed,” she said. “Even when it seems like you’re not making any progress, I guarantee your students are watching you, learning from you, and growing from you.”

A Nigerian immigrant, Ms. Solola discovered that she wanted to become a teacher after a transformative experience in the classroom when she was around the same age as the students she currently teaches. She struggled to adjust culturally and socially until the sixth grade, when she had an amazing teacher who made her feel safe at school for the first time. 

She knew that teacher was having an impact on her when she started to accidentally call her “mom.” The close bond they developed inspired Ms. Solola to pursue education as a career. Her teaching philosophy connects back to the idea that students blossom in the classroom when the learning environment fosters personal connections. 

“Building relationships with my students and managing my classroom has always been my strong suit,” she said. “I see myself as a facilitator whose role is to guide my students’ learning. I always tell them at the beginning of every year: ‘You guys already know a lot of stuff; you just don’t know that you know it yet, and my job is to bring it out from you.” 

Though she has a lot of accomplishments she can point to, including being named a Golden Apple finalist last year, some of her most cherished successes are the individual students who she knows she has impacted.

She recalls one student from her first year teaching at Frazier. This student, a Black female, clung to Ms. Solola because she was the first Black female teacher she ever had. While the student doubted her own academic abilities when she entered Ms. Solola’s classroom, she graduated from Frazier with a new outlook and is now thriving as a sophomore in high school. 

“Instilling confidence in that student helped her realize that she can be much more than what the media tells us we can be as Black people, especially Black girls,” she said. “She made it to science fair while I was her teacher, and, after that, it was like there was no ceiling for her.” 

And she has another former student who texts her every Mother’s Day, showing her that her time in the classroom truly has come full circle. When another group of her students graduates from Frazier next month, she’ll know she has done her job well again this year—despite all the challenges—in helping prepare them for their next steps. 

“Since I start teaching my students when they’re in sixth grade, I get to watch them grow for three years, and I’m always marveling at them,” she said. “They enter middle school doe-eyed and nervous, and now they’re ready to handle anything that comes their way.” 

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week! Are you ready to meet another teacher? Check out our feature of Ms. Maura Hall, a kindergarten teacher at Vanderpoel Elementary who has served the district for 34 years.