By Anne Drabicky
As the Health Sciences teacher at Eastside Early College High School, Sanford Jeames has made it his mission to expand what’s possible for his students.
A clinician and researcher, Jeames—a finalist for Teacher of the Year—said he wants students to learn that there are more options in medicine than becoming a nurse or doctor.
“Without a doubt, the most rewarding experience with working with high school students has been watching them truly realize their passions,” he said. “I have really tried to expose students to a variety of academic experiences. I want them to discover themselves.”
Former students and his current principal, Miguel Garcia, emphasize Jeames’s mentoring relationship with students and his support for any of the paths they may take after graduation.
“He’s always looking to build partnerships in the community to give our students the opportunity to go out there and learn. He totally understands that it’s not just about being a doctor or a nurse… he understands that there are different careers in the healthcare field, and he’s open to that,” Garcia said. “He doesn’t put any limits on what the students dream or think they’re going to do.”
Garcia described Jeames as, above all else, an advocate for kids.
“It’s always about the kids. They’re always at the forefront of everything he does,” he said. “It’s one of those things where he’s not their friend, he’s not their teacher, he’s a mentor. The kids believe in him and trust him. It’s just so seamless, so natural.”
Ashley Castro, a 2017 graduate, said Jeames is still part of her life today.
“Even past high school, he still mentored me through college and different career changes,” she said. “When I was in high school, he used to help me with my scholarship essays. He was never pushy about it. I know some teachers only want you to succeed in their class, [but] he always asked about my other grades, asked about my home, my mental health. He always put me first.”
She recently had to take time off from her studies at ACC after the birth of her daughter. Jeames helped her navigate the system to ensure she’d still have a spot when she returns in January.
A daughter of immigrants, she was the first in her family to finish high school and the first to go to college.
“He helped me so much to actually have a career,” she said. “He would always tell us not to doubt ourselves, that we were smart enough to get the certification. It wasn’t chance or luck and we were there because we earned it.”
Jeames’s focus on students of color and more marginalized students is intentional.
“I help them begin to understand systemic racism. It doesn’t mean they don’t belong,” he said. “Industry partners as well as higher education people need to realize that students of color and marginalized populations don't need their sympathy—what they need is to recognize the importance of culture.”
He described his own family members, including a sister who is a nurse, as his mentors and the people who drive him to keep showing his students a different way.
“My father, he was an educator—a graduate of Tuskegee Institute, a historically Black university. There was a different perception and expectation then,” Jeames said. “My father, without a doubt, set an example of professionalism and high standards, but more importantly, self governance. My father was very educated, multiple degrees, but also I've watched him hold his tongue.”
Joe Anthony Garcia, a 2015 graduate, was among the first of Jeames’s students at Eastside. Now a certified nurse assistant, Garcia said that Jeames’s classes helped him explore what he wanted to do and start working almost immediately after graduation.
“When you’re barely in high school just getting to know yourself, he just gave us options,” Garcia said. “You gotta see, what do you like most? Being in that class really got me some hands-on. We went to Seton, Brackenridge… we saw a lot.”
Opening up the world beyond high school was key for Garcia.
“I feel like anybody who went to Eastside, you’d hardly been around Austin. It was a small school,” he said. “But as far as exploring your mind, getting out of your comfort zone, he really pushed us.
“The sky is the limit, but I’m moonwalking.”
Austin ISD’s annual Salute event honors educators throughout the district for their excellence in the classroom. Jeames is one of four finalists for Teacher of the Year. Tune in at 6:30 p.m. May 20 to watch the virtual awards ceremony.