Ricardo Noel knows first-hand the impact a mentor and teacher can have on a student’s academic path and success in life. Ricardo was fortunate to have a friend and guide who saw and nurtured the potential in him. Now a teacher at AF Apollo Elementary and founder of a nonprofit, Ricardo has dedicated his life and career to helping students reach their full potential. We sat down with Ricardo to learn more about his journey.
1. Tell us about yourself! Where did you grow up? What are some of your favorite hobbies?
I was born in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and raised in St. Albans, Queens. I love being active — I love working out and running. I also love cooking, especially Haitian food. One of my go-to dishes is diri ak sos pwa — it’s white rice with a sauce made by mixing beans with spices.
2. That sounds delicious! What else are you passionate about?
I’m passionate about people — I like helping people become aware of their potential. I love giving back to my community and I am passionate about equity. I root for the underdog, and it brings me joy to see them achieve their dreams. It’s one of the reasons why I founded my nonprofit, H.O.O.D Educators. It stands for Holding On to Our Dreams through Education, and I founded it when I was studying for my master’s degree at Howard University Before attending Howard, I was never aware of HBCUs. I learned about them through a friend and mentor. Being around so many people of color and seeing them succeed in their studies and professions…I was amazed by that. I was in my bedroom when I realized that not many kids from the “hood” get a roadmap to show them they can achieve great things like students at Howard. We all have that potential to reach the pinnacle of success, if we had a roadmap to do so. So, that’s how I got my inspiration for H.O.O.D., through which we partner to provide support and resources to low-income students.
3. You’re doing incredible work. Where did you get your passion for education?
I’ve always been around the realm of education. When I was around 13, I worked in the after school program at my former elementary school, where I helped students with homework and played games with them. At the age of 19, I was promoted to curriculum writer and worked alongside my former elementary teachers to design programs to help students in school and prepare for the state exams. I was able to get an inside look into what it would be like to be a teacher. My mentor also taught at the school. He took me under his wing and mentored me. He was someone who was incredibly successful in Howard and in his teaching career. And, he was from my neighborhood. I thought, if he can do it, why can’t I? That was a source of motivation and inspiration and reflection for me. Through that process, I grew a love for education. Oftentimes, I think there aren’t enough people that look like me and my students in positions of power or are given the opportunity to bring about change. I want to change that perception. I guess that’s been a mission of mine. I keep that in the back of my mind with everything I do.
4. What has been your proudest moment as an educator?
It’s the opportunity to work with my community and to see how far my students have come and see my footprint in my community. My first class of kindergarteners are now in college, which is incredible. Some of them still call me for advice, or I’ll hear from their parents about how well they’re doing. It brings me joy to know I’ve been a positive influence in a child’s life.
5. What do you hope your legacy will be as a teacher, and what do you want your students to remember about you?
I always want to be an educator who is always evoking change and always bringing out the best development in a child — whether emotional or academic. I always want to be helping students see the best of themselves and actualizing their potential. I want students to say that Mr. Noel is a real teacher who is part of my community. When they see me, they see their father, uncle, brother – they see somebody that is part of their family, someone who is rooting for them.