School founder on a mission in Brooklyn

- Dr. Nadia Lopez is a woman on a mission. And it is a simple one: To give every child the same opportunity when it comes to education. Lopez is the principal and founder of Mott Hall Bridges Academy, which opened in 2010 with only 39 students in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city, the Brownsville section of Brooklyn.

"These were the most challenging young people in terms of behavior, academics," Dr. Lopez said. "Many of our scholars go to the most competitive high schools in New York City. Many of the schools that they end up going to are college-prep schools."

She faced a lack of funding and continues to. But she is determined to show the world how underprivileged communities can beat the odds.

"It was important to me when opened the [academy] that we provide a support to our young people," Dr. Lopez said. "Giving them opportunities to go beyond the school campus for them to see what their possibilities could be."

The school now has 200 students. Dr. Lopez has said a number of times the reason she opened the school was to close a prison.

"My mantra has been 'Open a school to close a prison.' The reason for that is a community like Brownsville—the stats are literally against our scholars in terms of 32 percent of the residents have a high school diploma and only 14 percent have a college degree. And so it is evident that there is a school-to-prison pipeline."

Mott Hall Bridges Academy is a STEAM-focused school; 100 percent of the students graduate.

"We are into our second graduating class, graduating and going to college." Dr. Lopez said.

About three years ago, Dr. Lopez got some national recognition. One of her students was featured by Humans of New York. He told HoNY that Dr. Lopez was his biggest influence in life. A crowdfunding campaign was set up and $1.4 million was raised.

"As the result of the funding that came from Humans of New York, we allocated funding to provide for scholars to go to college," Dr. Lopez said.

"She actually cares and motivates us," 7th-grader Michelle Wilkerson said.

"I think she's a good principal because she gives us a lot of opportunities to excel in all of our classes," 7th-grader Raisa Abru said.

The principal has been awarded a number of awards including the 2016 Blackboard Award for Outstanding School Leader. She is not afraid to step into the classroom and teach if she has to. She has done it in the past.

"The only way you can be an effective leader is that you still continue to practice the art of teaching," Dr. Lopez said. "So when a teacher is out, I have no problem stepping in."

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