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Friday, February 2, 2018

COE Graduate Paying It Forward

LaDreda Lewis
She always knew she would pay it forward. LaDreda P. Lewis’ desire was to help kids like herself, children who grew up less fortunate and who had experienced a personal tragedy or family hardship. She is doing exactly that.

As a teen, Lewis lost her mother to cancer and was left to live with her brothers. When she thought her life was about to be derailed, the women in her neighborhood embraced her and paved the way for her to go to San Diego State University where her life would change forever.

Lewis grew up in East Oakland’s Sobrante Park, a neighborhood known for drugs and violence. Her parents divorced when she was 6, and her father disappeared from her life. At 12, her mother was diagnosed with cancer and died when Lewis was 15. She ended up living with her four older brothers, two of whom returned home from college after their mother died.

Selling drugs was a way to make money in Sobrante Park, and two of her brothers did that. But Lewis did not want to follow in their footsteps. She did not want to become another statistic.

The women in her neighborhood adopted her. They became what she calls her “mothers.”

“Being surrounded by caring community members who saw something special in me is what I internalized,” Lewis said.

Deaths in the family

She knew she wanted to go to college. Lewis got into her high school’s Upward Bound Program and met people along the way who saw that she was driven to succeed.

“There were so many people who helped me to avoid becoming a statistic,” said Lewis. “They saw something in me and blessed me with their wisdom, support, and love.”

That’s how, at 17, she ended up at San Diego State University and the College of Education. She chose SDSU because it was far enough away from Sobrante Park and the pain of losing her family but still close to home.

“My SDSU College of Education experience was life-changing,” Lewis said, adding that she met Terrence Lewis at an SDSU orientation in Hayward. She and Terrence started dating during her first semester at SDSU and got married several years later.

But trouble would follow her to college.

During her second year at SDSU, she was in art class when she received a terrifying call. One of her brothers had killed another brother. He was sent to prison on a 30-year sentence.

After her loss, she continued her studies and worked for the SDSU Upward Bound program as a resident counselor and a writing teacher for several summers under Dr. Cynthia Park.

“It was great to give back to a program that had done so much for me. I'm still in touch with a few of the kids,” Lewis said.

She earned her bachelor’s degree in liberal studies and her multiple-subject teacher credential through the College of Education. She credits her instructor, Anne Nagel, for placing her in the La Mesa-Spring Valley cohort.

“It was an accelerated program that not only prepared me for teaching but helped to build my confidence,” Lewis said. “The accelerated credential program solidified my decision to become a teacher and allowed me to pursue a must needed teaching position sooner than later.”

But she was not done. Lewis went on to pursue a master’s degree in education. Tragedy struck again.

“Another brother was shot and killed in the street after leaving the drug scene but kept old ties,” said Lewis, who went on to complete her master’s degree in education and receive an administrative credential from SDSU.

“I’m a true Aztec,” Lewis said proudly.

Teaching kids like her

While she pursued her graduate studies, Lewis found herself in need of a job. She landed a teaching position at Murdock Elementary in La Mesa.

The school was predominately white, and, after 11 years, Lewis felt she had to move on. Lewis had vowed to honor her mother and to repay the women of Sobrante Park by mentoring and supporting youth who face challenging circumstances.

“There was no one like me. No teachers, no students, no one,” said Lewis, who is the proud mother of two daughters, Blair and Olivia.

She went on to teach at La Mesa Dale Elementary for five years. While there, she created an African American girls’ group.

After that, she became dean of students at Spring Valley Middle School for three years and vice principal at Cajon Park Middle School in Santee for two years.

From teacher to businesswoman

In 2008, Lewis and her husband Terrence, an SDSU business graduate, went on to pursue other opportunities to serve and support underserved communities.

They started 40 Acres and a Mind Inc. and purchased three Sylvan Learning Centers, which are tutoring centers designed to cater to the needs of students through custom curriculums designed for kids and adults.

“Our mission was and is to not only provide exemplary and much needed personalized supplemental education support to families in the center, but to delivery Sylvan’s programs beyond our center walls,” said Lewis, 54.

But then the economy tanked and their center in Imperial Beach could not sustain itself. They closed it in 2010. They relocated the center in Bonita to Eastlake two years ago and sold it.

They currently operate their La Mesa center and continue to seek opportunities to bring Sylvan Learning programs to communities in need by partnering with local organizations and businesses.

“I’ve learned a great deal about how to support underserved communities academically,” said Lewis.

Lewis said she has worked diligently to bring Sylvan programs to children living in Southeast San Diego. Currently, she serves as the teen advisor for 14 teenagers at the San Diego Chapter of Jack and Jill of America, Inc.

“My goal is to bring Sylvan’s results-oriented programs to children who are growing up like I did,” said Lewis, who is executive director of her center, a member of the San Diego Chapter of The Links, Inc. and the chair of the Links’ National Trends Committee. Lewis is also a board member of Social Advocates for Youth San Diego, which provides a range of programs for youth and children.

She also established Links to Making Achievement Possible (LMAP) three years ago to honor her two remaining brothers. One is out of prison and lives in Oakland. The other is married and lives in Stockton with his family. LMAP’s goal is to provide support and tools to formerly incarcerated female offenders to help them reintegrate into the community.

“I believe in second changes,” said Lewis, who enjoys long walks, exercising, reading, writing, theatre, and sunsets.

Why she shares her story

All along, Lewis has shared her struggles to get out of Oakland, graduate from college and become a successful business woman.

“I believe in the power of telling your story. I enjoy sharing my story with youth and adults. I've found my story resonates with those who have or are facing tumultuous circumstances and motivates people to get involved, even in a small way,” said Lewis, whose ultimate goal is to open a Sylvan Learning Satellite Center in Southeastern San Diego, and, hopefully, establish a partnership program with the SDSU College of Education for future teachers to work at her Sylvan center.

Lewis said she had a difficult time getting to where she is today. But she is thankful to have gotten there.

What is her message to students who are going through similar circumstances?

Surround yourself with people who share your core values and who make you a better person.  Stay focused while taking care of you emotionally, spiritually, physically and mentally,” Lewis said. “Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone. View mistakes as learning and growth opportunities. Remove yourself from unhealthy environments and relationships while you focus on making your dreams a reality.”