Dr. Sima Gandhi
Aabha R. - Contributing Editor
Dr. Sima Gandhi is the current Performing And Fine Arts Academy Coordinator.
Read on to learn about her journey of how she become an educator.
How long have you been in the field of education?
I’ve been in education for approximately 15-20 years. I’ve taught middle school, high school, been a tutor, was an Instructional Coach, and led multiple Professional Developments.
Why did you decide to go into the field of education? What motivated you to?
I went into the field of education because I had the desire to serve those around me. My parents were immigrants and did not have the knowledge to help me make informed decisions about course and post secondary (college and career) options. They could not help me decide between AP and honors courses. Additionally, they didn’t really understand the difference between all the college options (community versus four year university). My teachers and advisors helped me through this process. They believed in me and wanted to help me be successful. They impacted my life positively and for that I am thankful. This experience motivated me to want to do the same. I wanted to serve and help those who didn’t have all the resources and tools to make informed decisions about courses and college options. This is why I entered education.
What did you want to be when you were a child? Did those dreams change as you became older?
Like every other Indian child, I thought I wanted to be a "Doctor or Engineer." Culturally, we are taught that the only way to be successful is to enter the field of Medicine and/or Engineering. Luckily, my parents never forced me one way or the other. My father always told me "be successful so you don't have to clean toilets like I do." As I got older I realized that I didn't want to be a Doctor but that I loved science and wanted to do something in the Science field. When my father had a stroke, I observed the Physical Therapist rehabilitate my father. I thought I wanted to be a Physical Therapist. I later learned that I wanted to "help." I learned that I wanted to help and serve my community. As I grew I evolved into wanting to become an educator to help those who did not have the resources and support like I did.
Did you receive support from your parents and family when you decided to become an educator?
Growing up my parents never "told" me what to do. They always supported me in my decisions. Although culturally, we were taught to be Doctors and/or Engineers, my parents never did that. My father always told me to do whatever I wanted in life but to make sure I was successful and able to stand tall on my own two feet. My mother would always bring me food late at night when I was studying and she would cheer for me when I did well in school. My parent’s unconditional love and support is why I am where I am today.
How long did it take you to get your Phd? Was it difficult?
It took me approximately 4 years to complete and it was very difficult to complete. It took many hours to write and I had to sacrifice some things in my life in order to accomplish this goal. However, the support from my husband and children is the reason I was able to finish.
How and why did you start working at PFAA?
I started working at PFAA last year. Initially, I was ready for the next challenge in my career and wanted to serve on a larger scale. I was ready to be a part of the decision making process in order to bring systematic changes in our schools. I was looking for a school that had a strong instructional stance, believed in serving our entire community, where students always come first, and ultimately one that was progressive in their thinking. I found that when I applied at PFAA!
How do you keep the balance between having a family and being a principal?
It's honestly very hard. I am very lucky in that I have a strong supportive family at home. I tend to use my calendar, stay organized, and use my "village of family and friends" to help me. I don't think I would be able to be as dedicated as I am at PFAA if it wasn't for my amazing husband and children.
Who was your role model growing up? Is that person still your role model?
Growing up, my parents were my role models. My father came to the United States from India with nothing. He built everything from the ground up. My mother is deaf but she never let her disability hold her back. I am where I am because of them. They taught me the true meaning of hard work and sacrifice. Both of my parents were immigrants, yet they never complained about the life they had in the US. My father never finished the 8th grade. He taught himself to read "numbers" in English after coming to the United States. My mother, as a deaf woman, raised me to be kind, serve, and always do what’s right. My father passed away in 2004 and a day doesn't go by where I don't remember his lessons in life. My mother continues to remind me to work hard and reminds me that in life when one door closes another one will open because God doesn't close both doors (opportunities) in life.
Is there any other goal that you would like to accomplish? If so, what is it?
Yes, I would like to someday open a school / community center for young girls of South Asian descent in low socioeconomic areas. There are many things that culturally we navigate. I want to be a voice for them. Oftentimes, culturally we don't talk about mental health, bullying, and body image. Young Indian girls are often living “two different worlds.” They are attempting to be accepted by the “Indian” and “American” society. I want to be able to share my experience with them in hopes that we can as a community begin an important dialogue. Additionally, immigrants due to language barriers don't necessarily have the tools, skills, and knowledge to discuss college and career options for young South Asian girls. I want to be able to help them through that process.
And finally, are there any words of wisdom that you would like to give to your students and everyone who looks up to you?
My words of wisdom are to always "work hard, have grit, be kind, and play harder." I say this because nothing in life will be handed to you. You will have to use your voice, advocate for yourself and most importantly work hard for it. You also have to make time to enjoy life because life is beautiful. You just have to re frame your perspectives. Life is always going to bring you obstacles but what matters is that you pick yourself up, tie your shoelaces, wipe your tears and carry on so you can achieve your goals. No dream is too small. Always reach for the impossible because the impossible can become possible if you work hard for it!