Every year, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and California Credit Union partner to nominate 18 first-year teachers for the Rookie Teacher of the Year award. From the hundreds of new teachers at 900 LAUSD schools, California State University, Northridge alumna Dorothy Williams- Kohlmeyer ’17 (Kinesiology – Physical Education), was honored for her outstanding work as a dance teacher at Patrick Henry Middle School in Granada Hills.
From a very young age, Williams- Kohlmeyer had a passion for dance. Throughout her adolescence, she competed and performed in various dances from school to local events. Although dance was her passion, her original goal was to be an animal trainer. It wasn’t until later in life that she decided to make it her career.
“I went to North Hollywood High School in the Zoo Magnet program,” Williams- Kohlmeyer said. “I spent most of my time at the LA Zoo learning the trade. It was not the correct fit for myself at the time.”
After high school, Williams- Kohlmeyer went to West Los Angeles College for three years, to find which road would suit her best. Taking mostly dance classes, she honed her craft, and a friend recommended that her talents would be perfect for a kinesiology degree with an emphasis in physical education.
After her first year studying at CSUN, Williams- Kohlmeyer was ready to enter her second year of her degree, but during the first year the unexpected happened: a pregnancy.
A week after the 2015 Fall semester, Williams- Kohlmeyer gave birth to her son, Jayden. Missing only one week of class, she returned with an enhanced drive to complete her degree.
“It was hard being a single mom in college,” Williams- Kohlmeyer said. “While I was pregnant, I wasn’t able to perform at all and it felt like it was going to lengthen my time at CSUN. My mother was able to watch my son while I went to class.”
Juggling school, work and motherhood, Williams- Kohlmeyer was busy almost every hour of the day.
“I knew I had to step it up and finish my degree,” Williams- Kohlmeyer said. “I was not the only person to worry about anymore.”
Williams- Kohlmeyer decided to meet with Belinda Stillwell, professor of kinesiology, who proved to be a great mentor in planning out and organizing the rest of Williams- Kohlmeyer’s courses at CSUN.
“Stillwell knew exactly what I needed to do and how I was going to do it,” Williams- Kohlmeyer said. “She helped me create a course load that suited me and that let me graduate on time.”
Unfortunately, during this time, Williams- Kohlmeyer would be faced with devastating news. While working to complete her credential, in January of 2018, her father was diagnosed with lymphoma. Few people would criticize her if she dropped out. However, that wasn’t an option for her.
“CSUN has helped me tremendously in my goals. It gave me many important tools, one being how to manage my time,” Williams- Kohlmeyer said. ” I know I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the faculty at CSUN. They gave me the knowledge and the tools to be able to impact the kids I teach today.”
While in the job hunt, Williams- Kohlmeyer found a position as a dance teacher at Patrick Henry Middle School in Los Angeles.
“I emailed the principal and was able to secure a position as a dance teacher for Patrick Henry Middle School,” Williams- Kohlmeyer said. “I started a week late in the fall and had to come up with various performances for parents, with over 200 children.”
Williams- Kohlmeyer quickly settled into her new role and flourished. She choreographed for her students intricate dance routines with impactful messages. Each dance she created provoked a bigger conversation.
During Black History Month, Williams- Kohlmeyer choreographed and created a two-night event performance. The theme: WOKE – a term used to describe social awareness – was a two-and-a-half hour performance of a variety of dances created by Williams- Kohlmeyer. In this event, she took charge of not only the dances, but the backstage and lighting crew.
“When I create a dance, it is not just moves,” Williams- Kohlmeyer said. “They evoke social commentary, and I tell the kids that when they are performing they are telling a story to the audience.”
As a first-time teacher, Williams- Kohlmeyer said she was surprised to receive the award. Unbeknownst to her, the principal and teachers saw the vibrance she brought to the school, which ultimately led to her nomination.
“Dorothy has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to her students and to the performing arts,” said Sandra L. Cruz, principal of Patrick Henry Middle School. “She is a visionary, and in her first year as a teacher was able to bring that vision to life.”
In what would seem a regular work day, Williams- Kohlmeyer would soon be in for a surprise.
“We were all called into a faculty meeting, and they told us that there was a special guest,” Williams- Kohlmeyer said. “Little did I know that the special guest was me. They awarded me Rookie of the Year and I was shocked. It was a very proud moment for me.”
In partnership with California Credit Union, LAUSD will honor Williams- Kohlmeyer and other Rookie Teachers of the Year at a Los Angeles Sparks basketball game on Aug. 5, sitting court side. Before the game there will be an opportunity for the teachers to shoot around with the players, and after there will be a rooftop party.
Williams- Kohlmeyer hopes to eventually teach dance at the high school level. She also will complete her physical education credential by the end of the summer. This credential will allow her to move up the ranks to eventually reach her goal.
At 24, Williams- Kohlmeyer has had a very full plate. With pressures at every angle, she learned to turn pressure that was once overbearing into diamond achievements.