Wednesday, November 30, 1:00 p.m.
The Accidental Rocket Scientist: Recognizing Potential to Increase Educational Equity
How can educators make STEM and other advanced fields more accessible? Through recognizing potential in students whom they may overlook. Join Dajae Williams, engineer, hip hop artist, and educator, as she recounts her “unplanned” journey of becoming a NASA rocket scientist. In this MasterMind session, Dajae will share exactly what it takes to remove learning barriers of students from diverse backgrounds. Take away her teaching strategies to create equitable learning environments with lasting purpose and long-term impact.
About Dajae Williams
A multi-hyphenate hailing from St. Louis, MO, Dajae Williams is a rocket scientist, professor, and STEM-based hip hop artist. Dajae is known for her journey of becoming the “Accidental Rocket Scientist” and for her ability to translate math and science into catchy hip hop songs. Dajae lies at the intersection of hip hop and education, with the goal of removing language as a barrier to learning. Her work has been featured on NPR, CBS, CNN, FOX, and NBC, just to name a few. Before becoming a motivational speaker, Dajae was a passionate engineer working for top engineering firms such as NASA, Apple, Toyota, and John Deere.
Thursday, December 1, 9:00 a.m.
#whyGT: A Storytelling Session
Blake Haygood, Evan Hsiang, Adriana Sanchez Cantu, & Debi Torres
Our TAGT community is filled with amazing advocates who have supported, built, and delivered G/T services for their students, their children, and our members. These incredible advocates have celebrated successes, faced setbacks, and moved forward with resilience and a stronger sense of #whyGT matters. This MasterMind session celebrates and shares the stories of the 2022 TAGT Award Winners Blake Haygood, Adriana Sanchez Cantu, and Debi Torres, along with one of the 2022 Laura Allard Scholarship Winners, Evan Hsiang. Join us as we come together to laugh and cry with them, share in their joys, and reflect on #whyGT is our passion in this unique storytelling session.
About Blake Haygood
Blake Haygood is the Advanced Academics Specialist for New Braunfels ISD. Blake is a graduate of the TAGT Emerging Leaders Program, a TAGT New Coordinator Boot Camp committee member and presenter, and the current Vice-Chair and incoming chair of the TAGT Parent Resource Committee. He is also a regular TAGT speaker and content contributor. His time in the classroom built awareness of speed bumps and barricades that can stifle gifted potential. When his PG son started Kindergarten, he got to see these barriers from a parent perspective, which made him an even louder advocate for support in public education to help every student reach their full potential. In New Braunfels, Blake is proud of the improvements he’s worked towards: normalization of the D&C Framework, increased awareness of non-traditional gifted traits and 2E, HG, and PG kids, extensions and projects, and the construction of a G/T website complete with blog, resources, and professional development opportunities to support G/T learners, their families, and their teachers and administrators. Districts and families across Texas have visited his website for ideas and support. He’s made it his mission as a G/T leader to target systemic obstacles and misconceptions and remove them in time for future G/T children, regardless of their environment, age, or experience.
About Evan Hsiang
Evan Hsiang, W.B. Ray High School’s 2022 Valedictorian, is currently a freshman at Harvard College majoring in Chemical and Physical Biology. His professional goal is to attend medical school and pursue a career in academic medicine. Evan currently volunteers for a number of programs that support his mission to address gaps in opportunities and resources for underserved populations through social awareness, community involvement, and scientific research and development. As the Experiment Coordinator for the Phillips Brooks House Association, he leads scientific experiments for local Cambridge elementary and middle schools. Through Partners in Health Engage, he advocates for health equity and fundraises for the University of Global Health Equity and Butaro Hospital in Rwanda. As Associate Editor of Harvard Health Policy Review and Staff Writer for Harvard International Review, Evan writes and edits journal articles related to health policy and international relations. Evan is also a 2022 TAGT Laura Allard Scholarship Recipient.
About Adriana Sanchez Cantu
The Advanced Academics Specialist at Bel Sanchez Elementary in Alvin ISD, Adriana Sanchez Cantu has served as the G/T teacher for the last 5 years providing engaging learning opportunities for students in grades K-5. Adriana holds an MBA, a Master’s in Education, and a Bachelor’s in Bilingual Education. She has been an educator for the last 30 years. She speaks Spanish, French, Italian, and English, and she teaches Latin to her students. She has been an advocate for all students and especially Gifted students. As a mother of a gifted boy, she understands the importance of allowing students to pursue their interests and challenge their minds. She collaborates with parents, students, and teachers to create and design deep and complex lessons. She holds a national certification in STEM education and has international teaching experience. Adriana continues her professional growth as part of the REMSL STEM cohort at Rice University.
About Debi Torres
Debi Torres is the Gifted Education Coordinator for the Austin Independent School District. She has spent most of her career working in gifted education as a teacher or district administrator. Debi is an avid enthusiast for equity and diversity topics and was instrumental in the creation of the Austin ISD talent identification program (Talent Explore) to support underserved student groups in advanced academic programs. Debi was a key member of the team that developed the 2022 Jacob Javits Grant proposal awarded to Austin ISD. Debi has presented at TAGT, NAGC, and SENG conferences and enjoys collaborating with others in all aspects of gifted education. Debi is a Ph.D. student at Baylor University in the Educational Psychology’s Gifted and Talented program. She plans to use this opportunity to broaden her knowledge in the field to further her passion advocating and supporting gifted youth from all backgrounds across Texas and beyond.
Why Students’ Mental Health Matters: Live Podcast Interview
Heather Lambert, Chris Thomas, and Martha Thomas, Hosted by Emily Kircher-Morris
How can adults connect with students facing emotional trauma and understand their needs in times of crisis? What can we do to help high-achieving students feel safe enough to be vulnerable and honest with the adult educators? Join Emily Kircher-Morris, host of the Neurodiversity Podcast, for a live, guest-hosted podcast interview with Heather Lambert, a former G/T educator and counselor specializing in student trauma, and Martha and Chris Thomas, co-founders of The Defensive Line organization, which focuses on suicide prevention in young people of color. Walk away with a deeper understanding of how neurodiversity and achievement impact students’ mental health and how educators can provide resources and support for students in their schools and classrooms.
About Heather Lambert
In the summer of 2017, in response to the urgent need for mental health services in her community, Heather Lambert left her 17-year career in education and founded Clearhope Counseling. Clearhope began with the simple mission to remove access barriers to high-quality mental health services. Today, Clearhope has multiple locations and partners with local school districts to provide on-campus mental health services, and a trauma-informed training to support educators and students. Heather is the author of Overcoming Toxic Air A Path to Healing and Hope-Filled Exhales. Heather is also involved in political advocacy and was appointed to HB 906 Mental Health Task Force to study and evaluate mental health services to improve mental wellness in public schools across the state of Texas. Heather is driven by her personal mission that “No one should hurt alone.” Heather has been married to Pastor Brian Lambert for 28 years. Brian and Heather have 4 children.
About Chris Thomas
Chris has yet to meet a stranger. During his 30-plus years in corporate management of consumer goods and products, both domestically and internationally, Chris has literally made thousands of friends through his innate ability to connect with and care for other people.A gifted college athlete, Chris played an integral role in coaching and developing the athletic achievements of his children, Ella and Solomon. People are immediately put at ease by his big laugh and zest for life, and by his ability to communicate a message of positivity and hope. As a senior executive at Procter & Gamble, Frito-Lay and Alberto Culver among others, Chris brought a drive for excellence to his work, earning recognition and industry awards including Salesperson of the Year and Supplier of the Year. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, as well as Touched By Suicide (TBS) board member, AFSP Project 2025 board member, and College of Wooster Ad Hoc Alumni Trustee. He and his wife Martha and son Solomon were recipients of the 2019 AFSP Lifesaver Award. Chris often jokes that, as Solomon’s dad, he had the rare privilege of raising his own favorite NFL player, and no player has a more enthusiastic father in the stands. Chris continues to play sports, travel, and barbecue some of the world’s best ribs.
About Martha Thomas
Martha draws young people like a magnet. She exudes warmth and welcome to everyone she meets. As a teacher and educator for 30 years, Martha brings authenticity and an open heart to her work with students. Nominated by her school district as Teacher of the Year, Martha prioritizes the well-being of her students, and provides creative and compassionate leadership both inside and outside the classroom. Martha co-founded The Defensive Line to honor her daughter, Ella, and to bring a message of hope and help to other at-risk young people. She is the roots of her family and believes and demonstrates fundamentally that connection is our greatest source of strength together. Martha, Chris, and Solomon were recipients of the 2019 AFSP Lifesaver Award. Martha resides in Coppell, TX, with her husband, Chris, and two rescue dogs Mickey and Rebel. She is a marathoner and devoted friend to a very lucky many, as well as a huge fan of the New York Jets for whom her son, Solomon, plays defensive lineman.
About Emily Kircher-Morris
Emily Kircher-Morris, M.A., M.Ed., LPC, inspired by her own experiences as a neurodivergent person, is dedicated to destigmatizing neurodiversity and supporting neurodivergent people of all ages. She started her career in education and is now in private practice near St. Louis, MO, as a licensed professional counselor, where she specializes in supporting gifted, twice-exceptional, and neurodivergent kids and adults (and their families). Emily is the author of two books related to the development of children and teens who are neurodivergent and cognitively gifted. “Teaching Twice-Exceptional Learners in Today’s Classroom” (Free Spirit Publishing, 2021) focuses on supporting 2e learners in the educational setting, and “Raising Twice-Exceptional Children: A Handbook for Parents of Neurodivergent Gifted Kids” (Routledge, 01/22) is a guide for parents navigating the world of twice-exceptionality. Emily hosts The Neurodiversity Podcast, which explores the psychological, educational, and social needs of neurodivergent people. She speaks at statewide, national, and international conferences and frequently provides virtual and in-person professional development to educators, mental health clinicians, and parents worldwide.
Teaching Twice-Exceptional Learners in Today’s Classroom
Raising Twice-Exceptional Children: A Handbook for Parents of Neurodivergent Gifted Kids