Award-Winning Brownsville Principal Shares the Secrets of Building a 'Bridge to Brilliance'

Last year, a Brooklyn Principal and her student were invited to The White House after a story about their school went viral. Well, that principal is sharing the secret of her success in a new book. Our Cheryl Wills has the story.

An unlikely journey from Brooklyn to The White House started with this middle school student.

Last year, 13-year-old Vidal Chastanet told The Humans of New York Blog that his principal Nadia Lopez was the most influential person in his life. 

His inspirational story went viral and prompted an invitation from President Obama.

Lopez reflects on the visit in her new book "The Bridge to Brilliance: How One Principal in a Tough Community is Inspiring the World." And although it might embarrass her student, his reaction to meeting the President is a great story.

"So he opens the door, and Vidal faints," Lopez said.

The teen indeed fainted but quickly recovered and had a conversation with the leader of the free world.

"Here's a young black male who gets to see the President for himself — to sit in his seat — you can go where you want," Lopez said.

And that's the overriding message that the award-winning principal has for her students, whom she calls scholars. However, life is no picnic for them. Many live in abject poverty here in Brownsville, which has one of the highest crime rates in the city.

"Can you imagine?" Lopez said over the wail of nearby emergency sirens. "This is how kids learn every day."

We had to pause several times during our interview due to police and ambulance sirens, but Lopez does not allow those sounds to define her scholars. 

"She's like a mother to me," said eighth grader Renisha Conner. "She always lets us know how awesome we are and tells us we are destined for greatness."

"Ms. Lopez she tries her hardest to make us understand what's out there how people's looking at us and she treat us like we one of her kids herself," said eighth grader Falazia Brown.

The school is an oasis for the scholars, who raise money to travel for competitions and they recently visited Harvard University for a field trip. Suspensions are down and grades are up in a neighborhood that is not benefiting from the Brooklyn real estate boom.

"What I see here is potential," Lopez said. "What I've been able to accomplish is not based off of seeing what's not here, it's based off seeing what is here."

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