Meet Carmielle Darden

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Ms. Darden stands with the award alongside her two daughters, Chloe Morgan, 16, and Calle Rhames, 6.

Since Carmielle Darden was a little girl in the 5th grade, she remembers wanting to make a difference and serve her southeast community. Darden envisioned donning a doctor’s long white coat and practicing medicine as her calling. Little did she know her mark would be in education, which would lead to her becoming an award-winning teacher.

Darden was named the 2023 Teacher of the Year when D.C.’s Friendship Public Charter School Network held its 15th Annual Teacher of the Year Gala in March. The school is located at 4095 Minnesota Ave. NE.

From Physician to Educator
Focused on entering medical school, she earned her undergraduate degree in biology with a minor in chemistry at Morgan State University. But after she graduated, one of her favorite high school teachers suggested that she take some time to teach and earn some money before going on to medical school. She did and her career path was forever changed.

(L-R) Roland Martin (journalist and political commentator), Donald L. Hense (chairman and founder of Friendship Public Schools), Ms. Darden, Patricia A. Brantley (CEO of Friendship Public Charter Schools), and Milton Bernard (the president of the Busy Bee Environmental Services who is a big sponsor of the event)

“I had such a connection with the kids that my whole plan changed. Instead of becoming a doctor and being just one person to help heal the community, I get to teach hundreds of students and help them to reach the medical field [or whatever]  their dreams,” said Darden, 45, who teaches Biomedical Science, Principles of Biomedical Innovations, and Medical Interventions to sophomores, juniors, and seniors at one of the city’s highest-performing public-charter schools—Friendship Collegiate Academy in Ward 7.

In her estimation, Darden has taught more than 3,000 students. She recently completed her 25th year as an educator. While some students may not have been initially interested in the medical field, by the time they finished her class many were inspired and superbly trained to pursue health-related or research-based majors in college.

Dayshea Harris is one such student. The current Strayer University freshman and Friendship graduate in 2022 is now majoring in criminology thanks largely to Darden.

“I wasn’t even supposed to be in her class as a freshman. Usually, Biomedicine is taught to sophomores. I didn’t know what to expect. She taught forensic science and made it so hands-on, exciting, and interactive, that I really got interested in it,” said the 19-year-old Harris who had the fortune of having Darden as a teacher for four years.

Pride of Friendship Collegiate Academy
Darden, who received a Master of Arts in teaching and school administration from Bowie State University, has gained the respect of her peers at Friendship Collegiate Academy (https://www.friendshipschools.org/schools/collegiate) by designing complicated curricula, empowering diverse students from various socioeconomic backgrounds, and setting and maintaining a certain standard of excellence for the students to follow.

The distinguished award was bestowed to Darden because of the number of services she performs. Besides teaching, which includes instructing incoming students during the summer for six weeks to ensure proficiency in Apple Coding, Darden is the school’s liaison for the National Academy Foundation (NAF). NAF is a national nonprofit organization that transforms high schools by giving businesses opportunities to partner with schools and possibly shape future workforces.

According to the nonprofit’s website, https://naf.org, NAF, established in 1980 has grown from its headquarters in New York City to hundreds of academies across the country. During the 2022-2023 school year, more than 112,000 students attended 604 NAF academies across the country where 88 percent enrolled in higher learning.

Darden, who beat out seven other finalists and outstanding educators from other Friendship Public Charter Schools (grades pre-K3 to 12) in the area to be named Teacher of the Year, is also Friendship Collegiate’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) Director. The CTE programs in the District are promoted through the Office of the State Superintendent of Education and focus on 12 career clusters that include architecture and construction; business management and administration; finance; information technology; and STEM.

Three students proudly display their science project.

“There is no assistant [in the STEM program]. It is just me serving the students, pushing them, and steering them to resources, funding, and events for STEM. That is the challenge that I love. I want students to know that I will always be a safe place,” Darden said.

She is responsible for organizing orientation programs with the NAF model and the DC CTE Strategic Plan and providing guest speakers and subject-matter experts to interact with students. Darden directs the school’s partnership with foundations, corporations, and professional societies in the fields of health science, computer science, and engineering.

“Ms. Darden is a shining example of what we all strive to be at Friendship—a loving place for our students, a source of rigor, innovation, passion, and a catalyst for learning and success,” said Patricia Brantley, the CEO of Friendship Public Charter School, at the gala.

Native Washingtonian
Born in Congress Heights and living behind Frank Washington Ballou Senior High School where she attended and graduated, Darden still resides in the same house she lived in as a child.

“Most of the people that lived here on my street are still here,” she says.  “Some of them might have passed away but their children still live there. Unlike St. Elizabeths (the psychiatric hospital that opened in 1850), everything has changed on that campus.”

Gentrification generally has not encroached on this part of Congress Heights. The predominantly African American neighborhood that the late mayor and Ward 8 councilmember, Marion S. Barry, once championed, remains challenged by poverty, crime, and is a bit of a food desert although signs of progress are steadily being made. What has not changed for Darden is family. She currently lives with her elderly mother and two daughters ages 16 and six.

“I only went into teaching to help change the narrative. People always want to claim bad things happen in Ward 7 and 8. I want to be a part of that change for students. That’s why I chose to live and work with students [East of the River].

Future Goals
Darden is happy with her achievements but in no way satisfied. She wants to do more for her community and disadvantaged people.

The students in Ms. Darden’s class are completing an assignment that involves a rubber cadaver.

“I would like to expand my reach. We [in Wards 7 and 8] don’t get into these things like becoming a biochemist, pharmaceutical sales representative, genetic counselor, or lab technician because we don’t see them in our neighborhood. I want to be able to expose more students [to these types of careers]. I’m looking to open a child development center that is STEM-based and move entirely to the administration side.”