Newsroom

Experience-collecting RTR student finds himself pursuing a teaching career

Dennis Williams, a student in the special education track of the Richmond Teacher Residency program.

Dennis Williams, a student in the special education track of the Richmond Teacher Residency program.

Two degrees in art history, teaching visual culture in the Richmond City Justice Center, creating curricula for the VCU Institute for Contemporary Art and launching a mobile market program for Shalom Farms. All of these experiences led VCU School of Education student Dennis Williams to the Richmond Teacher Residency (RTR) program to study special education.

How did all of those experiences lead to a career in special education?

Williams came to VCU in 2007 and earned a bachelor's degree in art history with a concentration in architectural history and a minor in history. He then furthered his education by earning a master’s degree in art history in 2014.

“Being involved with nonprofits like Shalom Farms made me really aware of social disparities and poverty in Richmond and some of the ill effects that segregation and injustice cause in the city.”

Before earning his master’s degree, Williams had the opportunity to be a part of ART180’s Performing Statistics initiative and VCU’s Open Minds program, which allowed him to teach classes in the local jail with Dr. Melanie Buffington.

“It was a very revealing process. I knew little about the history of institutionalizing people with intellectual disabilities. Coupling that with histories of mass incarceration and slavery, it inspired a commitment toward teaching both minority students and students with special needs,” said Williams.

Expanding his reach into local nonprofits, Williams worked with Shalom Farms, a regional food access project, to create a mobile market program, where a truck would bring fresh produce to urban communities that often lacked access to healthy food. He took the idea of giving underserved Richmond neighborhoods access to organic produce and turned it into an opportunity.

“Being involved with nonprofits like Shalom Farms made me really aware of social disparities and poverty in Richmond and some of the ill effects that segregation and injustice cause in the city,” said Williams.

All of Williams’ experiences in the Richmond community had an underlying theme: the positive impact that teaching can have on the community.

Williams was accepted into the special education track of the RTR program. He currently is a student teacher in a special education math classroom at Henderson Middle School working with special education teacher, Samantha Martin.

“One of the most incredible things I've ever seen is a group of people, written off as underserved or not capable, putting their minds to work and focusing on the activities we provide. It truly is inspirational and I am grateful for the fact that, through the VCU School of Education and RTR, I am now able to have this experience daily,” said Williams.