A Warren County HS graduate returns to teach at her alma mater

Dominque Sykes, a ninth-grade English teacher at Warren County High School, prepares for her classes during her planning period on Monday, October 10, 2016. (Christine T. Nguyen / The North State Journal)

WARRENTON — In North Carolina, education has long remained at the forefront of political and civic priorities at both local and state levels. A strong emphasis has been placed on students achieving high academic standards while teachers spend long hours assessing how to bridge the achievement gap. Meanwhile the financial budget for education remains stretched as more than 1

5 million students are enrolled in the 2,592 public and charter schools across the state

Dominique Sykes, 23, is in her second year of teaching ninth grade English at Warren County High School — the same high school she graduated from in 2011.

“My whole life I wanted to be a teacher,” said Sykes. “There are so many ways you can make learning exciting.” Sykes teaches five classes a day of anywhere from 13 to 22 students in a class. Between three to four students in every class have Individualized Education Plans or plans with specialized instructions for learning. Then there are students with specialized behavior plans. Each plan requires meetings, paperwork and additional lesson plans if needed. Lesson plans are created weekly on the material to be taught, Common Core standards being addressed, testing benchmarks and so on. The days of a teacher remain full.

“Teaching is not easy. Everybody can’t do it,” said Sykes. “People don’t realize how little control we have as teachers. We are basically there to implement.” As a teacher, Sykes is always finding a way to reach each student so they can succeed in her classroom. Currently, students are learning William Shakespeare’s classic, “Romeo and Juliet.” Sykes, though a dedicated teacher, is also a new teacher placing her on the lower end of an already highly contested pay scale. “Last year, I had my own apartment. This year, I moved back in with my mother. It’s really hard to make ends meet. I’m fresh out of college with a career job. I bring home almost $2,000 a month. Insurance and benefits have to be taken out. Rent was $600 not including the light and water bills, car insurance, and grocery bills. By the time bills were paid, I was left with $200 for the month,” said Sykes

Sykes was offered a job in Baltimore, Maryland where she would earn a higher salary, but she turned the job down to remain in North Carolina.

“I’m a product of these schools and had the opportunity to teach here. The kids here need hope to be more and to work harder,” she added

Warren County High School is a Title 1 school where all students receive free lunch. Bringing them hope and the push to work harder, also means supplementing some school supplies students may be without. On average, Sykes spends $200 a month from her take home salary on notebooks, pencils, binders and extra items students arrive to school without.

“I bought a student a coat yesterday,” she said. “I want nothing but the best for every student in my class. I have to do my part so that student has no other choice but to succeed.”