St. John’s College High School, Upper Northwest D.C.
In the Minority Voices in American Literature class that he designed, Karl Danso likes to get his students to think about their passions. Would they rather have security and practicality, like a character of Booker T. Washington’s, or be like a character created by W.E.B. Du Bois who is excited about life and gravitates toward the arts and higher education?
The 32-year-old English teacher and co-dean of students at St. John’s College High School says he enjoys helping students discern their vocational calling so that they don’t end up in a career they don’t like. “This is such an important time in students’ lives, when they are making big decisions and trying to figure out who they are,” Danso says. “I love being a part of that and getting them to reflect.”
Grounded in the private co-ed Catholic school’s motto, “Enter to learn, leave to serve,” there are three essential questions that Danso and others at the school often ask students: What are you good at? What brings you joy? What does the world need you to be?
To have these conversations, Danso makes an effort to get to know his students. This means connecting with them in class, in the hallway, on an annual service trip that he helps chaperone, or in the gym (he was head wrestling coach at the school for six years and now is assistant coach).
In class, Danso dismisses the teaching adage “Don’t smile until December,” which holds that teachers need to be stern in the early months of the school year to set the tone. “That doesn’t mesh with my personality,” he says.
There were no openings at St. John’s College High School when then-Principal Jeffrey Mancabelli first met Danso, but he offered him a job anyway. “Truly, I was in awe of this personality, this presence and his authenticity,” says Mancabelli, now the school’s president. “We had one of the greatest conversations about being with students and what it takes to touch hearts and minds.”