New Yorkers in Profile

Carrine Hackshaw: The Weight of Student Activities is on Her Shoulders

November 28, 2011 Written by | 124 Comments

by Christine Dayao

It was never Carrine Hackshaw’s dream to become a teacher, let alone having to plan the extracurricular activities of several thousand high schoolers. After working for 10 years as an English teacher,  she was selected as Richmond Hill High School’s Coordinator of Student Affairs, a job that is both tedious and time-consuming yet rewarding and humbling. 

Carrine Hackshaw carries the weight of 3,000 students’ extracurricular activities on her shoulders. As Richmond Hill High School’s Coordinator of Student Affairs, she must plan and execute at least a dozen yearly events for thousands of youngsters.

As an English teacher, it is a Herculean task that she never imagined taking on. In her youth, she never dreamed of becoming a teacher, let alone being responsible for an entire school’s student affairs.

Growing up in Brooklyn with a Caribbean-African American background, her aspirations were to become a lawyer or a doctor. When she was a teenager, a friend boldly told her that teaching best suit her because of her tutoring skills and patience. Not to mention, her friend thought she looked like a teacher. Although initially outraged, the idea stuck with her as she realized that her ability and passion to teach were both great.

“Becoming a teacher wasn’t a ‘Eureka!’ moment for me,” said Ms. Hackshaw, who in her late thirties stands at five and a half feet tall with short curly brown hair.

This year, after teaching English for 10 years at Richmond Hill High School, the laid-back woman was chosen as the school’s Coordinator of Student Affairs, or COSA, when her predecessor retired. She is an example of why a lot of hard work can go a long way.  It was her nurturing quality, past experience teaching abroad and, involvement with students wishing to pursue a business career that made several colleagues support her in getting the position.

Being COSA is of the utmost importance as it is the backbone of student extracurricular activities. Ms. Hackshaw oversees the Leadership class, Richmond Hill’s student government. She also plans and schedules various fundraisers, blood drives, a fashion talent show, and allocates money to school teams, clubs and organizations. When teachers need the auditorium or want to take their class on a trip, they come to Ms. Hackshaw for the paperwork and permission slips.

Under Ms. Hackshaw’s tutelage, the school raised 94 pints of blood donated by eligible students and staff members at one of its two yearly blood drives. Last month, Leadership students and other clubs raised over $2,000 for the fight against breast cancer. Ongoing events include the Penny Harvest and the Canned Food Drive.

The road to becoming an educator was met with some bumps and a few detours along the way but eventually she reached her destination.

After attending New York University and becoming a certified English teacher, she was eager to get some teaching experience under her belt.

“I taught at the High School for Economics and Finance, by the World Trade Center. My supervising teacher was horrible. He showed me no support and asked the class what was wrong with my lesson—right in front of me,” she exclaimed.

Following that experience, one she called traumatizing, Ms. Hackshaw never wanted to teach again.

That feeling didn’t last for long. The bubbly woman moved to Egypt for two years after accepting a full scholarship to the American University in Cairo.

“It was the best time of my life,” she declared. She taught English as a second language to children and adults and to attendees of a summer camp in Cairo’s Armenian community.

Upon returning stateside, she took a job at Long Island’s Freeport High School, where she is an alumnus. It turned out to be yet another awful teaching experience: because the school district was so bad, many of the new hires, Ms. Hackshaw included, began leaving two months into the school year.

It was at this time that she decided to forgo teaching. For three or four months, she was unemployed until a friend gave her a wake-up call to get a job.

That was when she called Richmond Hill High School in Queens. She got a call back and the rest, as they say, is history.

“They were so nice and welcoming. It’s never a boring day here,” she said, laughing.

Ms. Hackshaw, an avid traveler who has been to France, Spain and Turkey, was approached to be the next COSA and several teachers pushed her to get the position.

Naturally, she was hesitant at first because of the amount of work involved. Aside from teaching Leadership and planning student events, the COSA is also in charge of the school store, which sells a variety of snacks and gym uniforms.

Though the job is a massive undertaking, it does have its perks. “It’s rewarding working with the kids; I try getting them to work to their full potential,” Ms. Hackshaw said while in the Leadership office, a small, tan and blue room tucked away in one of the school’s first floor corridors. It is a hole in the wall considering the amount of people who come in and out each day and the amount of work that gets done there.

Fideline Segall, a fellow teacher and Senior Class Advisor, backed Ms. Hackshaw to become COSA. The two women work closely together, especially with senior events.

“She has a lot of skills and the quality to nurture young leaders. She has her own way of doing things,” said Mrs. Segall, who has also been teaching at the school for ten years and just began her third year as Senior Advisor.

Mrs. Segall admires Ms. Hackshaw’s teaching in Egypt and her encouraging students to learn from their mistakes.

“If something didn’t go well, she asks ‘What can we learn from this?’” Mrs. Segall said.

Out of the high school’s 3,000 children, the 30 students in the Leadership class are among the best and brightest of their peers. Most of them are upperclassmen and a couple of them are sophomores.

“I have a very take-charge class. They showed me the files on the computer and what they’re working on,” Ms. Hackshaw said of her first day on the job. “When they come to the office, the agenda’s up and they know what to do.”

The students’ worktable was stacked high with fliers ready for distribution, cans for the food drive and containers filled with coins for the annual Penny Harvest. The agenda must be the teacher’s saving grace because by day’s end, the table was cleared and several items were scratched off the list.

Of course there have been struggles. The first dance of the school year was postponed due to an incident that occurred on the day of the event. Ms. Hackshaw scrambled to reschedule with the party decorator and the D.J., as well as put in new requests for security guards and chaperones.

Before the former COSA retired, she gave Ms. Hackshaw advice: though the kids are the focus, you must be firm with them and with the administration as well.

One of the predecessors’ former students, Manpreet Kaur, has heard nothing but good things about her successor. “It was hard to picture anyone taking her place. But Ms. Hackshaw will do just as great as a job, from what I’ve heard about her,” Kaur said.

Even though the Thursday before Veteran’s Day was extremely busy for her, Ms. Hackshaw was able to write a recommendation and help edit an essay for a senior Leadership student’s scholarship application. Her kindness and attentiveness are surely qualities that helped her attain this position.

It has only been three months since she forged this new path in her career, but what has surprised her the most?

“That I’ve managed to keep my sanity,” she said.

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