Carver Elementary assistant principal Maguy Yancey has seen a few things in her time.
Fluent in five languages, with two master's degrees and a doctorate in the works, Yancey was born on Runion Island, a French island near Madagascar. She grew up speaking French and Creole, traveling with her family at a young age and being exposed to other cultures before her family moved to Paris to further her education.
Yancey credits the multiculturalism she experienced in Europe for sparking her interest in education.
"What prompted me to work in education was, overseas I could choose four languages before I graduated, from middle school through high school," she said. "We started doing field trips outside our country, because we had neighboring countries such as Spain and Italy, and we were used at a young age to traveling. We heard about people and culture, and when I earned my scholarships, I traveled to Spain to finish up my master's over there."
Over the next few years, Yancey would travel across France, Spain, China, Germany, the United Kingdom and eventually Belgium. Her travels showed her how varied ideas and practices in education are.
"When I was staying [in Belgium] I observed on campus how teaching was," Yancey said. "Teaching was very different from Spain and other countries, so I wanted to be in education because, in all the countries that I traveled around, education was just so different."
Over the next five years, Yancey worked as a Spanish teacher in France, a French teacher in Spain, and a French teacher in China. By then, she spoke French, Creole, Spanish and Chinese, and was familiar with German and Italian. It was after she came back to Spain that she was invited to come to America.
"I was a happy French teacher in Madrid, Spain, I was doing my grad school over there. The VIF, the Visiting International Faculty program based in Chapel Hill, contacted the school because they were seeking world language teachers to work in America," she said. "I decided to apply to learn English. That was my goal, to come here and learn about American schools."
Six months before she crossed the Atlantic, Yancey began learning to speak English. After arriving in Chapel Hill, Yancey ended up in Wayne County, where her ability to teach both French and Spanish landed her a spot at Goldsboro High School. Yancey only intended to stay in America between one and three years, but something got in the way.
"I met my husband," she said with a laugh.
That decision to stick around led to what would become a 14-year career as a language teacher at Goldsboro High. Yancey said she loved working there, expanding the language program from a one-year class all the way up to include advanced placement courses.
"We did that because the kids wanted to know more," she said. "They wanted to travel abroad, so we even did some field trips, actually."
Now an assistant principal at Carver Elementary, Yancey's linguistic skills are more valuable than ever. Southern Wayne County, and especially Mount Olive, have high concentrations of both Spanish-speaking and Creole-speaking people, which puts Yancey in a unique position to communicate with parents at Carver who may not have been able to give their input before.
"When they speak a second language, it is difficult for them to express emotions in that language. You don't think or feel in a second language," she said. "Often times they will talk through their children, but sometimes those young children can't really explain what their parents are trying to say."
Speaking to parents in their native languages allows them to give input which goes beyond the most basic exchange of information, Yancey said. If they feel like they can express themselves and that they will be taken seriously for it, those parents are more likely to get involved at school, which leads to a stronger sense of community and a better experience for everyone.
Yancey received some recognition for her work earlier this month, when the Wayne County Board of Education formally recognized her as the WCPS Assistant Principal of the Year at its Nov. 6 meeting. Yancey said the award made her step back and appreciate what she has accomplished.
"Going through my portfolio was eye-opening, because I didn't really know how much I did," she said. "Hard work pays off, if you work the way you do because you want to make a difference in your community."
Yancey is not content to sit back on what she has already done. She is always looking for the next challenge -- currently in the form of a Doctor of Education degree at Gardner-Webb University. One day, she hopes to be the principal at a dual-enrollment school, where students are taught 50 percent of their content in English and the other 50 percent in another language.
"Learning a language is powerful. Learning from other cultures is powerful. This is what makes us stronger, and able to work together without having false conceptions and bias," she said. "To me, it's a powerful tool to move forward."