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'I've never seen someone work as hard' | DCPS teacher recognized out of a million public service workers for impact in classroom

Saqiyna Gray, a teacher’s aide at Stanton Elementary School, has won an award that recognizes one out of 1.4 million service workers who always go above and beyond.

WASHINGTON — When Saqiyna Gray shows up for work every day at Southeast D.C.'s Stanton Elementary School, she's often the first to come, the last to leave and spreading an impact so great, one public worker's union chose to recognize her - out of more than a million others - for her life-changing efforts in being a role model for local students.

Every month, the American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME) chooses to honor one of the 1.4 million public service workers in the union with the AFSCME Never Quit Award, which recognizes members who go above and beyond. 

Gray was recognized by her colleagues for her commitment to her students and community through all of life's ups and downs; from teaching her students critical life skills, like how to read, to being a source of emotional comfort through the tumult of a global pandemic. 

For her award, Gray is celebrated as a woman who Stanton Principal Harold McCray says works harder than anyone he's ever seen. But among families, coworkers and her students, she's known simply as Ms. Kay.

“I don’t look at her as my teacher, I look at her as like my mom. She really means the world to me and I love her so much,” former student Fatmata Jarra said.

Her caring qualities are skills McCray is also familiar with. “Ms. Kay, to the students, is a safe space. She’s the one who they’ll turn to if they're having troubles or they feel scared or if they are worried about something. She's a comfort to them."

"When they obtain their goals, it makes me feel so proud. It makes me feel like anything is possible. That's the end goal, is to help kids grow and to be comfortable in where they're supposed to be," Gray said of her time in the classroom. 

She has big dreams for students from an area she says can often be overlooked.

"Because of this rep that's out there, that this is a poor and bad community. It's not. I feel this richness when I look at my brown families. I feel their love and I also feel their need; their anger sometimes when the streets are too chaotic," she said. "I'm here to stand in this community, with this community . . . I'm going to stand in the thick of it with you."

Gray is also a celebrated staff member among colleagues, who see the impact she leaves on students firsthand. Teacher MJ Hubbard shared her confidence that Gray's teachings are changing the trajectory of many students' lives. 

"But then, also, treating kids like human beings. I think Ms. Kay does a very good job of giving kids the respect that she wants back. Teaching them how to just be . . . well-adjusted people," she added.

"I think every person and part of the school she touches blossoms because of her love and her care," another fellow teacher, Jessica Salute shared. 

The union added that, during a time when far too many students lack stability in their lives, "It is important for people to know that there are educators, like Saqiyna, who are working extremely hard to provide the support students need to get through the pandemic."

Watch the full video created by the union to honor Gray by clicking here. 

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