From almost nun to green thumb, Kelly Miranda sowed seeds of community service before she came to MasteryPrep.
Kelly Miranda admits she was almost a nun.
Throughout her career, Kelly has answered her personal calling by making a difference in the lives of everyone she meets, with a commitment to bring passion and personal joy every day to her work. So much so that that’s how the award named after her by FirstLine Schools describes Kelly through “The Kelly Miranda Big Chief of Fun Award,” given annually by the New Orleans charter school system to a faculty member who impacts the lives of students and staff.
Kelly spent eight years as founding member and community liaison of the Edible Schoolyard New Orleans, a signature program of FirstLine Schools. Kelly left a lasting impact as the program still exists today by creating nourishing environments, providing quality edible education, and fostering community in the way children eat, learn, and live at five FirstLine public charter schools.
In 2014, Kelly joined MasteryPrep, just two years into the company’s formation. She was one of a handful of instructors prepping high school students across the southeast; now there are 89 instructors who prep students in 625 school districts and institutions in 47 states nationwide. She serves as instructional coach and facilitator, and for eight years, Kelly has taught ACT®, ACT Aspire, SAT®, Decoding the ACT/SAT (Professional Development for Teachers), WorkKeys, and Louisiana LEAP 2025 Algebra 1. She has trained many of the instructors, and she has played a key role in the development of the MasteryPrep learning platform, including helping to navigate the pivot from in-person to virtual after COVID-19. MasteryPrep has impacted more than 1 million students since the company’s founding in 2012.
“Felt Like Sister Act in New Orleans”
Mount Carmel Academy is Kelly’s answer to the common question to any New Orleans native, “Where did you go to high school?” A product of the private Catholic high school in Lakeview, Kelly went on to graduate from LSU with a degree in elementary education (K-8).
After LSU, Kelly joined AmeriCorps, and chose to work with the Notre Dame Mission Volunteers, which brought her to Watsonville, California. “I was placed in a Catholic elementary school where I put my education degree to work and tutored students in 2nd-8th grade. After school, I helped students at a migrant farmworker housing community with their homework, and on most Saturdays, I volunteered at the local food bank. I had the opportunity to work alongside some great people, including nuns. One of those great nuns invited me to help her run a summer camp in Los Angeles for a couple of weeks which is how I found myself living in a convent in Watts.”
Kelly said she fell in love with AmeriCorps after that year, but missed home, so she signed up for another year, this time with City Year Louisiana. City Year develops young adults into civic leaders by placing them in community service partnerships nationwide. She was on a team at Samuel J. Green Charter School, part of FirstLine Schools in New Orleans. She helped pilot a city-wide, middle school service-learning program, Young Heroes. “Our Corps team also spent our Fridays doing physical service projects around the city, and since this was a year after Katrina, there was a lot to do.”
One of the service projects Kelly participated in was the re-landscaping and beautification on the Samuel J. Green Charter School campus. “It felt like Sister Act in New Orleans. I can remember cutting down the barbed wire from around the school, then planting gardens, beautifying the space, painting murals, and then there eventually popped up this amazing garden in the middle of Uptown New Orleans off Freret Street.”
For the 2007-08 school year, Kelly was hired by Samuel J. Green Charter School as a first-grade teacher. “First graders ran all over me, but I stuck it out the whole year. I realized that I did not love teaching in the classroom, but I did love being a part of a school and the exciting public charter school movement.”
In 2008, Kelly joined Edible Schoolyard New Orleans as the first Community Partnerships and Volunteer Coordinator. ESYNOLA is a signature program of FirstLine Schools. The concept brought hands-on kitchen and garden classes into the school curriculum and culture; provided fresh choices in school cafeterias; maintained school gardens and supported academic learning in garden and kitchen environments; provided local, organic food; and cultivated safe spaces for students’ development. Kelly worked with nonprofits, corporate groups, and local colleges on service projects to build and maintain the garden, beautify the school, and assist students in garden and cooking classes.
What started at one school ended up at all five FirstLine charter schools. To recognize all her efforts, FirstLine Schools named an award after Kelly – “The Kelly Miranda Big Chief of Fun Award,” given annually by the charter school system.
In 2014, Kelly left ESYNOLA to raise her first child of three, and her family moved to the Northshore.
“Watch What We’re Going to Accomplish Together”
In summer 2014, Kelly was interested in tutoring and remembered a family friend handing her one of the first ACT Boot Camp workbooks published by MasteryPrep, which had been founded two years earlier by CEO Craig Gehring. “She said take a look at this, and go apply, so I did, and the rest is history.”
“For our training, we saw Craig do a live boot camp in Baton Rouge in front of about 100 students. I was hooked right away. I was already comfortable being in front of large groups, so I told myself it was like doing dinner and a show. I had to get comfortable with the content, and then I could mix that in with the interaction and presentation.”
Kelly’s first job with MasteryPrep was supposed to be as a substitute teacher at Hahnville High School in Boutte, Louisiana, but that turned into a full-time ACT Mastery teacher position at the high school.
Kelly taught ACT Mastery and ACT Boot Camps before gradually diving into ACT Aspire, SAT Mastery and SAT Boot Camps, WorkKeys, Louisiana LEAP Algebra 1, and Decoding the ACT/SAT (Professional Development for Teachers).
Kelly serves as instructional coach and facilitator. She has trained many of the instructors. “For eight years, I have been surrounded by some really talented and masterful instructors who I learn from, have grown with, and inspire me to make my instruction even more awesome.”
She also played a significant role in the development of the MasteryPrep learning platform, including the pivot from in-person to virtual after COVID-19. “I remember being in the middle of a boot camp in Louisiana in March 2020 when I was about to start the science section, and students all at once got a text message that the school was shutting down. Of course, I thought, wait, what about the science, but it was such an alarming message to get, and I’ll never forget that day.”
Following the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, MasteryPrep accelerated its technology development, building a new platform and retooling its resources to fit a virtual environment due to school closures. “We pivoted quickly, and we made the decision to make virtual work. A lot of our instructors were unsure because we were so good at face-to-face with the energy and passion our instructors were known for. We knew we already had a solid foundation of a strong curriculum, so it was just teaching and presenting our product in a virtual world.”
For example, MasteryPrep launched Study Hall, an online adaptive test prep program that uses a student’s testing data to chart the path of least resistance to increase their score. MasteryPrep also developed Snap Course, a micro-video course platform that allows students to watch thousands of short instructor videos and answer practice questions, among other simulated activities. Programs such as Study Hall and Snap Course are components of the MasteryPrep Ready Platform, a data-driven, blended learning solution for schools and school districts to purchase MasteryPrep resources and products under one comprehensive suite.
“Following the Road Signs”
Kelly said some of her favorite boot camps are the ones where she is greeted by students with the “not today face.” “Sometimes at the beginning of the boot camps, I get looks of ‘we’re not doing this today lady,’ and I just say, ‘we are,’ and they come along. By the end, they are cheering, dancing, laughing, getting all the questions right. When you can have a good time with six hours of test prep, you know you have something special.”
Kelly’s favorite strategy to teach on the ACT is in the Science section – Following the Road Signs. “Science is a section that students are most unfamiliar with because it’s so different than what they learn in school, so we teach them to skim the data first, pay attention to the “road signs” which is like the labels on the graphs and tables and how the data is trending, and then follow those road signs as you answer the questions. That one simple approach is a gamechanger. No matter how complicated the passages get, we follow the method to simplify how to work the passage.”
On SAT, she enjoys teaching the “4 E’s” for reading (entrance-evidence-elimination-exit); “3 E’s” for writing and language (entrance-elimination-exit); and ESE (entrance-solve/strategize/skip-exit) for math. “It’s a structure for approaching questions and approaching questions the same way builds confidence with students. It gives them a playbook. It builds momentum too because with every question we can move a little faster because the structure is creating a habit.”
For example, Kelly said if she is teaching an SAT Mastery reading lesson on Locating Details within a passage, when she begins to review, she has a build-in series of questions using the E-4 method that is going to facilitate a conversation and lead students to the correct answer.
Founded in 2012, Baton Rouge-based MasteryPrep provides mastery-based college readiness services and resources for the SAT®, ACT®, TSIA2, EOC, and WorkKeys®. MasteryPrep is the nationally preferred SAT and ACT prep provider of the Council for Opportunity in Education and partners with schools and districts to level the playing field on standardized assessments and accountability measures. MasteryPrep is ranked among the Inc. 5000 “Fastest Growing Companies,” featured by “Entrepreneur 360,” and selected among the “Growth Leaders” by Louisiana Economic Development for two years in a row.
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