A Preschool Teacher With a Broad View
Davinia James teaches her students to be global citizens
Three years ago, Davinia James saw Girl Rising at the Regal Majestic movie theater in Silver Spring. The film, directed by Richard Robbins, tells the story of nine girls in nine different developing countries struggling to get an education.
“Growing up, I had my own struggles, and education changed my life,” says James, 29, who came to America from Jamaica when she was 18. “I left that screening thinking, OK, what can I do?”
James, who lives in Chevy Chase, became an ambassador for the film, hosting local screenings and sharing her own story. When she was 3 months old, James was placed in the care of a Jamaican community activist because she had gotten sick and her mother could no longer take care of her. In the woman’s home, James lived a privileged life.
When James was 11, she was returned to the care of her mother, and she found herself surrounded by violence and poverty. She quickly realized how easy it was to take things for granted. Walking home from school one day, James watched as a gun was pulled on her brother. Later she witnessed the killing of one of her friends. “I wanted to show the world that this is not just a film,” James says. “This is an actual person.”
In addition to hosting screenings, James collects pennies to raise money for The Girl Rising Fund, an organization inspired by the movie that directs donations to education programs for girls.
“I have friends that throw away pennies,” she says. “The world doesn’t think there is much value to pennies, and it’s sad to say, but that’s how girls in developing countries are viewed. So my thing is that I’m going to change your perspective of a penny, so the next time you see a penny, you won’t walk over it, you will pick it up.” In the past three years, James has raised more than $6,000 in pennies.
When James isn’t increasing awareness for the education of girls, she is teaching preschoolers at the Outdoor Nursery School in Chevy Chase. Pictures drawn by her students of influential women such as Malala Yousafzai, J.K. Rowling and Michelle Obama line the walls of her classroom, and three enormous jars of pennies, many of which have been brought in by students, sit on a table.
“She will wear tutus, crazy hats and wacky clothing,” says Colleen Kelly, a Chevy Chase mom whose three daughters attended the Outdoor Nursery School. “She is true to herself, and she teaches that to others through her actions—especially my girls.”
Another cause close to James’ heart is the Avon walk for breast cancer, which she has participated in for the last four years. James was 20 when her mother died of breast cancer. “My mom never complained,” James says. “So every year I walk 39.3 miles.” During the walk, James plays music through a speaker and dances down the street to energize and encourage the people around her.
Kensington resident Ayme Fried has two sons who had James as a teacher. “Because of Davinia, both think outside of themselves,” Fried says. “They are constantly aware that people don’t have the same opportunities they do. How many 4- and 5-year-olds think that way?”