Berkeley-Cummins is originally from Trinidad and Tobago, moved to New York more than 40 years ago with her family and has been here since. Her second oldest sibling, Elma, was the first to become a teacher in the family and was constantly educating others, whether it was giving lessons to kids in the neighborhood or becoming a tutor after retirement. That dedication left a lasting impression on little sister Ligoria, who was an elementary school teacher for 20 years as well as an instructional coach and principal, and now is dean of lower elementary at Brooklyn Scholars Charter Academy.
“She really inspired us,” she said. “I love learning and her biggest love was a love of reading. She made sure as the younger ones that we could read and went to college. She pushed us to go to college and really instilled in us a love of learning and reading.”
Elma had wanted to write a children’s book but passed away in 2018. Berkeley-Cummins, inspired by her sister’s commitment to education and National Heritage Academies’ (NHA) Moral Focus virtues, paid tribute to her sister and her homeland by co-authoring, along with her son Andrew, “Elma’s Dilemma: A Truthful Tale”.
At first, Berkeley-Cummins had some stories written but wasn’t sure what would make for a good book. She got some encouragement when author Jewel Caston-Mendoza visited Brooklyn Scholars last year to read her book, “Purple Pen.” She asked Caston-Mendoza what inspired her to write, and she told her that if you keep waiting, you’ll never publish something.
Berkeley-Cummins found her inspiration within the halls of Brooklyn Scholars, which has outperformed the local district for 11 years. She didn’t see any books about the Caribbean diaspora or on Moral Focus virtues and infused them into a book about a teacher sharing a folklore from Trinidad and Tobago about integrity.
“I love the fact that we have Moral Focus,” Berkeley-Cummins said. “You want to set our students up for success and make sure they have Moral Focus as a foundation. I chose to focus my book on integrity because as adults we make mistakes as well but once it’s brought to your attention, we're trying to make sure that our kids know it, too.”
Berkeley-Cummins sought to include the Caribbean diaspora in the book to show what those from the area have given to the rest of the world.
“When you think about islands, you think about going on vacation, the beaches, but what else have they contributed,” she said. “These are the people in our schools sitting in our classrooms. Their ancestors made the contribution to where we are today.”
Her time as Brooklyn Scholars has been relatively short, but the school’s commitment to a Moral Focus-based curriculum that gives children lifelong skills is something she is proud to be part of.
“I love that when it comes to staff, it’s a real family,” she said. “I’ve been in private schools and other schools, but I’ve never had this culture of learning where you feel safe to make mistakes and not be judged or looked down upon. I’m not intentionally going to make a mistake but if it does happen, it’s OK. The team is willing to pitch in and help each other get around, so it’s a nice culture of learning.”
Keep up the excellent work, Ms. Berkeley-Cummins!
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Brooklyn Scholars Charter School is a tuition-free, public charter school in Brooklyn, New York, serving students in kindergarten through eighth grade. It is part of the National Heritage Academies network, which includes over 100 tuition-free, public charter schools serving more than 65,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade across nine states. For more information, visit nhaschools.com.