Former South Bronx educator pursues new venture with iBrain, an educational nonprofit

iBrain, an independent nonprofit educational organization focused on students with brain injuries and brain-based disorders, host their annual holiday concert at their newly opened Brooklyn campus.
Photo courtesy iBrain

The final school bell rang, ending the 2022 school year in June. But the bell also dismisses Dr. Peta Henry and brings an end to an eight-year teaching career.

The following day, Henry began a new path as the director of professional and continuing education for the International Institute for the Brain (iBrain), an independent nonprofit focused on students with brain injuries and brain-based disorders.

While a new adventure begins for Henry, a decade-long passion for serving marginalized communities continues for the former educator.

“I really saw myself in a lot of the students,” she told the Bronx Times. “I know that sometimes you can be overlooked. I enjoyed being able to go into these classrooms and act as a support — an extension of teachers — to help students.”

Henry emigrated with her parents from Jamaica to New York City in 2008. Raised in the South Bronx, she said her parents always stressed the importance of education — they viewed education as a form of empowerment and a way to discover new opportunities.

Her father always envisioned his daughter becoming a doctor. However, all that would change once Henry received her first job at a school at 18 years old. She served as a teacher’s assistant in Pennsylvania, which sparked an immediate interest in the field. She began accepting jobs at daycares, mentorship programs and schools in the area. A trend began to appear as Henry noticed her work constantly revolving around serving students and education.Near instantaneously, she found her passion — teaching.

Finishing up college in Pennsylvania, Henry contemplated where to teach. She always wanted to give back to her Bronx community and soon realized she could do so through education. Now 29, Henry spent the last eight years working in charter and public schools in the area.

After spending eight years teaching in the South Bronx, Dr. Peta Henry joined iBrain as its director of professional and continuing education. Photo courtesy Peta Henry

Her initial decision to locate in the Bronx drew some questions and discouraging remarks from colleagues and peers. Despite the criticisms, she pushed forward with teaching in the borough and faced her greatest challenge — creating a connection with her students. She said many students put up barriers and did not care to connect with educators after dealing with a high turnover rate of teachers.

However, sharing her experiences and challenges as an immigrant in the South Bronx helped forge trust. For eight years, she connected a diverse group of students, from Latinos to African Americans and students who were immigrants.

“I think there’s just a lot of misconceptions surrounding the South Bronx, but it’s so much more than that and always will be,” Henry said. “Representation matters. Here’s someone who looks like me, or here’s someone who has a similar experience. Because even if I didn’t look like my students, I had similar experiences to them.”

Having a drive for education and serving marginalized communities, Henry contemplated her next move after receiving her Ph.D. from Liberty University in the spring of 2022, while still teaching full-time. Motivated by her students, who witnessed her passion for giving back, they became a driving force for a new chapter in her life and pushed her to further her career.

“I’ve always been invested in marginalized groups of students, whether that’s poverty, whether that’s disabilities, whatever it is, I’ve always been interested in that,” she said.

Despite switching roles, she still finds herself heavily involved in the education field. In her current role, she works with the research and innovation departments to assist with iBrain’s training and education program, which launched this month. Henry is responsible for developing courses with candidates who have expertise in special education, rehabilitation, brain injury and brain-based disorders, innovation and research. Along with her team, they are developing training programs for professionals, families and staff to help serve individuals with disabilities.

“I think … the way that we are trying to work and partner with experts in the field of rehabilitation and nursing medicine law, special education advocacy — it’s really furthering my own vision for what I’ve always wanted to do with my life,” she said.

With the addition of her role, the nonprofit recently opened a new campus in Brooklyn. Services offered at the Manhattan and Brooklyn locations include aquatic therapy, conductive education, hearing education, speech-language therapy and physical therapy. In addition to these services, throughout the year iBrain hosts social events, including a fashion show, a holiday concert and an upcoming film festival for students.

 

Tearing up, Henry recalled witnessing the students getting their makeup and hair done and walking down the runway at Gotham Hall during a September fashion show.

“I don’t think a lot of them would ever dream of walking down the runway,” she said. “Seeing them be a part of that and engaging in that … for me was just overwhelming.”

Six months into her new role, days sometimes go by when Henry misses the classroom environment. But, the constant work and witnessing children’s progress in social events and every day at the campus makes everything worth it for her.

“Everything I’m doing still comes back to what I love to do,” Henry said. “[iBrain’s] mission is to improve the quality of life for all these students with disabilities. And my mission has always been to support that in any way, not just students with disabilities, but any marginalized group that’s not served in an equitable way.”

Reach Nicholas Hernandez at [email protected]. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes

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