Ramdat Singh ’17 has been on a mission since becoming a special education teacher. He saw that his students were “falling through the cracks” when it came to postsecondary planning. As a teacher and administrator at Riverdale Kingsbridge Academy in the Bronx, his goal has been to steer students onto a career and life path before they leave middle school. As a district leader in the Bronx, Singh is equally passionate about working on long-standing issues of the mostly Caribbean community he oversees.  Here he speaks about his work addressing the needs of the underserved after graduating from Brooklyn College with an M.S.Ed. in special education—teacher of students with disabilities in childhood education, generalist (7–12).

Could you tell us a bit about your background?
When my parents immigrated to New York from Guyana, they settled in the Norwood section of the Bronx. Though I am a practicing Hindu, I was raised in a multi-faith family and taught to be tolerant of other religious beliefs. I am the first in my family to complete a graduate degree.

Was it your plan to go into special education?

Yes. I came to Brooklyn College after applying and being accepted to Teach for America. I knew when I entered that I would pursue a graduate degree in teaching students with disabilities. I had a transitional teaching license, and Helen Spencer, the certification officer at the School of Education, helped me greatly in obtaining my permanent licenses, including one to teach secondary social studies. She was always responsive and eager to help.

[Adjunct Lecturer] Edward Marzano’s courses helped me grow as a young teacher. Every week he required us to reflect, in writing, on our teaching practice, student learning, and classroom management. We then had to connect it to our course work. There are times, even now, that I refer to entries from my journal to improve my teaching practice.

What do you think are the most immediate needs for students with disabilities?

We must shift our thinking and recognize that special education is a service. Students are not supposed to be in special education their entire lives. There are exceptions, but most should be able to join their general education peers, have access to advanced classes, and more.

So, postsecondary planning addresses the issue of transitioning special education students?

Yes. My colleagues and I hold seminars where we bring in colleges to show students many possible majors and career fields. We are concentrating on students with disabilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Those students need extra attention and care because once they are enrolled in college, we still need to ensure they are eligible for the appropriate services and programs. It’s a combination of finding a college that relates to their career interests and will provide for the services they need.

You are a district leader for the 81st Assembly in the Bronx.

I became the first queer Guyanese district leader elected in New York State last year. There are two district leaders. We serve on the executive committees of the Bronx Democratic party. We oversee poll sites, making sure they are staffed and accessible for those with disabilities. We nominate judges to serve the Bronx. Equally important, we are working with the community to address issues such as food insecurity. We also have brought in people to train residents how to administer Narcan. We’ve been seeing a spike in drug overdoses. Our motto is “go from being a bystander to being an upstander.” We’re planning financial literacy workshops. Many folks in the district are immigrants who need access to resources. We want to see them excel.

You were also the director of civic engagement for the Caribbean Equality Project, which works with community partners to amplify “Black and Brown, Queer and Trans Caribbean voices.” Do you think it has made a difference since its founding in 2015?

Yes. I oversaw the Mash-Up De Vote campaign, a Caribbean-centric voter-engagement drive to ensure disenfranchised communities are engaged in the electoral process. Since its founding, I believe the project has been gradually changing the hearts and minds of members of the Caribbean diaspora who have difficulty accepting LGBTQIA+ individuals. The project does this through social and cultural programming and creating a safe space for LGBTQIA+ community members.

I grew up in a Guyanese household, where in my parent’s home country there are laws that criminalize being gay, so I didn’t come out until my twenties, first to my siblings, then to my friends, then to everyone. When I came out I was the freest I’ve ever been. I hope one day, we will not still be fighting for acceptance, and that everyone in the LGBTQIA+ community can feel as free as I do.

Do teaching and politics intersect for you?

Yes. I teach social studies, specifically courses in participation in government. Politics play a major role because I’m teaching students how to engage in the political system and become civic participants. Politics have come into the classroom much more today with book bans, underfunding schools, and contract fights, to name a few issues. I teach my students that political decisions can have a real impact on them, whether they choose to participate or not. When the school day ends, I leave and go to work at my second “job” working with my local community board or engaging constituents of my assembly district. It’s practicing what I teach.