By Jennifer Colosimo
Angel Pittman’s passion has always been steeped in education. She spent many years as an elementary school teacher before joining CBF as field personnel to lead out-of-school programming at Touching Miami with Love (TML). Now 25 years into her career, she has discovered a new way to live out her calling.
As an educational advocate with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Pittman has realized the power of her veteran voice, and uses it loudly, boldly and often to help families gain access to the education they deserve.
“After a few years at TML, we were seeing kids who had needs that weren’t being addressed by the school district. Sometimes the parents didn’t understand what their child’s educational needs were,” Pittman said. “I realized this gap most profoundly when I encouraged a parent to talk to the child’s teacher and doctor about ADHD. The mom’s response was, ‘Where do you think he caught it?’ It focused a light on how much education we needed to do concerning learning differences.”
The next decade saw Pittman transition from program director to vice president of TML, investing her time in the development of parent-education programs about learning differences. Then, sparked by a young man named Zayquan who couldn’t attend magnet school because his middle school didn’t even offer the required courses, Pittman took news of this inequity to the superintendent and pushed for changes to the school’s course offerings.
But she didn’t stop there. Pittman joined forces with the district’s magnet school director and created parent seminars to share about the educational options available for their children and how to access them.
“It wasn’t enough for me to just say there was an inequity,” Pittman explained. “I wanted to know how we could work together to make things different—not only for this child, but for others like him.”
For more than 15 years at TML, Pittman and her husband, Jason, have worked to expand the services provided to children. While still providing out-of-school programming, they increased TML’s impact to include educational intervention services, including in-school support for exceptional learners who were falling through the cracks as well as partnering with Florida International University to provide a summertime kindergarten readiness program.
“Our thinking was that if we could intervene and help kids stay up-to-pace with their peers until they hit third grade, they would have a much more successful future,” Pittman said, citing that 25 percent of the prison population have ADHD and 41 percent are suspected of having a learning disability.
“I have seen myself that kids who have untreated or undiagnosed ADHD make poor decisions which not only impact them for the rest of their lives, but also impact the community at large. There is a direct link to a pathway to crime when children are not served well for their special needs. I have seen kids who had potential; but without support or a parent who understood that there was something going on, their lives were ruined, and not only are families impacted, but the community is hugely impacted as well.”
The intervention services gave her a front-row seat to many things happening in the classroom that she knew in her gut were simply not okay. But she knew only enough about special education law to just say that. Putting a fine point on it, Pittman knew she needed to know more.
“I knew God was stirring something in me,” Pittman said. “I knew that I needed to be doing something more.”
In October 2020, Pittman began a new avenue for her calling to serve children through a new service assignment with CBF as an educational advocate. She spent the fall studying special education advocacy methods, individuals with disabilities law, and learning what’s happening in education on a national and state level. She also pursued board certification in educational advocacy.
In her new role, Pittman tells the story of working with a low-income family struggling to get the transcripts from a private school they were forced out of because of their inability to pay outstanding transportation bills. As a result, the children hadn’t been in any school for the entire fall semester. Pittman was not only able to get the students’ transcripts free of charge and get them enrolled in the public school but also helped educate the mother about the differences of support available in public versus private school. The result? Two very excited kids ready to board the bus to a new school on Monday.
Another story saw her coaching a mom through how to advocate for her son.
“I developed tools I use as I work with parents that aided the mom in discussions with her son about his learning needs,” Pittman explained. “Weeks later during the Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting, the mom was able to share these with the school staff, noting her son’s unique strengths as well as his educational and vocational goals. As a result of our many sessions together, he was given the support he truly needed and the teachers, seeing his strengths for the first time, got creative with ideas to help him thrive.”
The mother had not known that she could influence her son’s educational journey so greatly. Now she has more confidence, and her son has made a dramatic change for the positive with the support he needs to be successful.
“I want to support children, but parents too,” Pittman said. “That’s what I want—to teach parents how to advocate for their children. I want them to know what to ask and to know that when they leave those meetings that their child’s needs are being met.”
There are no two days that look alike for Pittman. Her schedule consists of meeting with parents, students and school officials across Miami and occasionally traveling to Tallahassee for various legislative work. Through CBF, she is able to serve in three ways: working locally with low-income families with children with special needs; partnering with other organizations for statewide advocacy around low-income children with special needs; and in supporting other CBF field personnel and partner organizations all over the country on educational programming.
“I want to know that what I’m doing can help give children what they need to be successful early on and, as a result, avoid that prison pipeline. I want every child to know they are capable of claiming a future and a hope and the abundant life that God wants for all of us, and I pray that I can point them to the author of that hope, Jesus.”
To many, she’s more than a support system—she’s an angel.
This article first appeared in the Summer 2021 issue of fellowship! magazine. Read online and subscribe at www.cbf.net/fellowship.