Anika Madison interviews hometown hero, Dr. Billy P. Jones, a dedicated educator who uses his classroom as a springboard for more than just learning. We’re happy that Anika discovered his story!
My interview with Dr. Billy Jones took place in his office where he is always surrounded by treasured memories and an impressive library. When I asked when he first began his community involvement, he said that he started in high school when he was a part of the Junior ROTC at Miami Killian Senior High. He said, “We were expected to do community service the moment we entered the program.”
During his teen years, Dr. Jones began clearing debris from impoverished areas around Killian Senior High, North Miami and Homestead so they could be turned into parks. He originally gave his time to environmental work. Even though he discovered his love for nature, he quickly realized that he did not desire to continue volunteering in this capacity.
In college, he transferred his efforts to the mentorship program Big Brothers Big Sisters and was engaged in several community projects with his fraternity. As an adult, Dr. Jones went on to continue his community service by being a youth mentor especially to males under 18 as well as those in college.
Dr. Jones earned his PHD in Leadership in Education from Barry University with a specialization in Leadership Theory and Curriculum Design and Technology. He called it “a unique hybrid degree.” He earned his Master’s in English Education and his Bachelor’s in English with a secondary major in Broadcast Journalism at Florida International University.
Dr. Jones starting teaching 21 years ago, at age the age of twenty-one. He taught at Ransom Everglades Upper Elementary School located in Coral Gables for one year. While there, he worked with a corporation called AmeriCorps. This organization provides service learning which enriches the learning experience by integrating education with community service. Dr. Jones had double duty as a teacher and working in the evenings and weekends, bringing inner city children into the school for this educational experience.
He continued his career in education at Sunset Senior High for seven years. He taught Language Arts, Journalism and Leadership to students in grades nine through twelve. After leaving Sunset, he would make a transition into higher education.
At Miami Dade College he worked at an administrative level before leaving to work at Broward College in January of 2015. He needed a change and felt that getting back to teaching was the right change for him. He feels that the magic happens in the classroom. He went on to say “You can effectuate change at the administrative level but the best change you can effectuate is in the classroom.”
When asked what he likes most about teaching he said there were two things:
Helping them see the value in having good written, oral and non-verbal communication skills. He loves to see them have that Aha! moment, when they say “I got it!”
Teaching the whole student. He sees students after office hours to talk about majors, personal issues and life in general. It means a lot to him that they feel they can go to him to talk about these issues and speak from a place of truth. If all they need is someone to listen to them, then he is glad he can be that trusted ear.
When asked what he finds most challenging as a teacher, he says handling a large number of students. This can be most challenging when he grades their work. At the time of the interview, he was grading diagnostic essays. His goal is to always make sure he is grading them correctly. When grading these essays, he provides information on what makes them work as well as a list of improvements. This takes some time which is challenging when you have a lot essays to grade.
There are also a myriad of challenges that the students face like socio-economic challenges, being homeless, addictions and some are recovering from various circumstances. Dr. Jones knows about the different resources to help them, but there is always something new that unfolds each week that causes a need to find different action for that situation.
When I asked Dr. Jones what he does to assist his students who are homeless, he said that in his tenure as an administrator while working at the Downtown Miami Dade Campus, he had a number of students that were homeless. Some lived in halfway houses with constant deadlines to relocate, while others jumped from house to house without a permanent place to call home.
He feels that the main thing these students need to do is self-identify. He found that when having conversations with the students, the fact that they are homeless comes up during the conversation. Now that Dr. Jones is back in the classroom full time, students come and confide in him quite often. For example, he had a conversation with a student whose choices placed her in her current circumstances. Now she wants a second chance at life. She told Dr. Jones that school was her only safe place. He gave her information from the student union for services for those in need.
Dr. Jones attracts a team of like-minded people, like his Associate Dean, Dr. Johnson. Dr. Johnson developed a food bank with perishables, non-perishables and basic snacks for the students that come to the school hungry. The students not only need a safe place to go, but they also have other basic needs that need to be met. This food bank helps fulfil those needs.
As an educator, Dr. Jones likes to switch it up and not just use the traditional style of teaching. He enjoys technology and uses it in his classroom. He not only uses PowerPoint, the basic constructs of multi-media and Youtube clips, but he also uses virtual reality. Last summer he started dabbling with “Second Life”, an online tool that allows you to create an Avatar and a scene in which students can engage. Dr. Jones uses this tool when providing hooks and introducing a new period of literature. He uses Second Life as a way to provide a brief understanding of the historical context of the places and things that are currently being discussed in his classes. He creates an Avatar that looks just like himself. While the students are in the class, they can view the Avatar’s interactions and journey into that period that is being projected on screen from his computer. For example: he created Queen Elizabeth’s Golden Era and her 40-plus-year reign, then Shakespeare’s home to show his class its significance to Shakespeare’s work.
Dr. Jones also believes in dialogue. There is always a lecture vs. discussion, but he also likes to use the flip classroom concept. This concept is an instructional strategy that reverses the traditional education model of the teacher standing in front of the class to the students engaging in discussions with each other on things they learned in class or while doing their homework. Then the teacher can provide immediate feedback and guidance during these engagements. This gives the students the chance to lead a discussion and see how much they have learned about the topic.
Dr. Jones uses a variety of teaching styles like discovery learning, active learning, he brings in guest speakers and even takes his class outside for an open lecture to expose them to learning beyond the traditional four wall room.
Dr. Jones is also a published author. He wrote “Everyday Folks: Short Stories on the Common People” because he loves people. He feels that everyone has a story to be told and he wanted to tell the stories of people that live in Miami Florida. He published this book in 2004 to give a glimpse into the lives of folks from the high-end glitzy people on South Beach, to Overtown, to Richmond Heights and Kendall. He wanted to capture the lives of people regardless of their backgrounds, their race or where they work. He wanted to give everyday folks in Miami a voice. Dr. Jones had a lot of fun writing the book and it has garnered a lot of attention. He has been to Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Houston Texas and Australia. His had his biggest audience and his work drew the biggest response when he was in Toronto, Canada.
Dr. Jones values people and has learned a lot about them through writing his book. He feels that he is a “human resource and when he surrenders that to others, it allows them to contribute back in their own ways.” He is currently in the process of working on volume two and hopes to release it by the end of this year. You can find the first book online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books.Google.com, Books-A-Million and IUniverse or any bookstore.
Dr. Jones also wanted to give a forum to everyday folks on his BlogTalk Radio show “Everyday Folks Radio”. The show “celebrates America’s ordinary yet extraordinary people” every week and is hosted by Dr. Billy P. Jones every Sunday at 3pm EST. Expect an informative hour that will also entertain and inspire. If you want to have your own broadcasting time, contact Dr. Jones and he can help you get that set up. He also offers assistance to business owners or anyone that wants support with a cause they feel will benefit the community.
Dr. Jones is looking for entrepreneurs that are up and coming and trying to find work as well as those who have been around for five years or less. He is currently working with O Cinema and Black Tongue Clothing. He expressed that he is excited to meet Nerissa Street whom he believes is doing great work. He wants her to know that he is grateful for the opportunity for this interview and looks forward to supporting her efforts as well.
You can visit Dr. Jones’ website at www.billypauljones.com, where you will find a link for the radio show, information on his book and a way to contact him directly.
I ended the interview by asking Dr. Jones why he decided to be the answer to his cause. He told me that he wanted to “support the human existence and the human expression.” He asks that people become “independent thinkers and creators.” He encourages people to use whatever skills and talents they have to make a difference and make contributions to the world.
He believes that Hellen Keller said it best, “The greatest things in life cannot be seen or touched, but are felt in the heart.” That is where Dr. Jones always likes to be. He feels that if he passes away tomorrow, he can always say that he made a difference in the lives of others. He wants to be that hope and feels that if others can be that hope for their fellowman, we would not have all of this negativity. He feels that, “It is that it is that simple and yet that difficult.”
I thoroughly enjoyed this interview and what I loved the most is his passion for people and the way he uses his life to help others. From his book on “Everyday Folks” to his work in the community and the special care he takes with his students, Dr. Jones is one of those rare people that get it. It is not what you accomplished that makes you great, it is the difference that you made with your gifts that people will remember the most. I am sure that Dr. Jones will be one of those great people that will always be remembered fondly for many years.
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