Lakisha Bonner: Passionate About Every Student

Lakisha Bonner 8_2018
August 2018

August 2018
Photos By Marie Thomas
Makeup by Bridgit Crider

If Lakisha Bonner could give one piece of advice, it would be to “always use your gifts and your talents to positively influence those around you.” She has dedicated her life to doing that very thing. Born into a family of educators, she found a calling and destiny in a place of service. As the Coordinator for Counseling and Career Development for Fayette County Public Schools, Lakisha equips students for their life’s work. She is passionate about helping students lay the groundwork for their futures through education, cultivation, and preparation.

Lakisha grew up in the small town of Bishopville, South Carolina. One of four children, she has two older sisters, Jawondolyn and Tosha, and a younger brother, Keel. Cousins and extended family ensured the home was filled with love, laughter, and lessons.

“Growing up, my dad was a businessman by trade. He owned and operated a barbershop,” Lakisha says. Her father also repaired electronics, often working after the shop closed to complete work. While dad demonstrated entrepreneurialism, other family members introduced Lakisha to a different world.

“My mother was my kindergarten teacher, my grandmother was my first-grade teacher, and my uncle was my sixth-grade social studies teacher. Each in their own way contributed to the dedicated educational professional that I have become,” she says.

Spirituality was a big part of her family’s life, with her grandfather and great-grandfather serving as church pastors. The family influences of working hard, honoring God, and helping others were ingrained in Lakisha at a young age.

Members of Lakisha’s family

Members of Lakisha’s family

Lakisha frequently worked at her dad’s shop, cleaning up and selling snacks to patrons during the day. She also watched her mother continue to work after school had finished for the day. Lakisha wanted to help people, but in a slightly different way. She set her sights on becoming a child psychiatrist. She worked as a Peer Counselor with the Department of Social Services in Bishopville, gaining valuable insight.

Lakisha graduated from Bishopville High School in 1993. As she headed off to college, her mom’s words steered her toward her destiny.

Lakisha

Lakisha on her way to Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc’s Centennial Celebration with sorority sisters.

“When I got ready to go off to school, I was going to major in psychology. My mom, not knowing in her wisdom at the time … said, ‘I don’t care what you major in, you’re going to minor in education. Because if your major doesn’t work, I can always get you a job’.”

Lakisha took those words to heart as she headed to Winthrop University in Rock Hill, South Carolina.

Armed with a strong work ethic, and a heart to help children, Lakisha held several jobs while in college. She was a counseling intern at Northwestern High School, worked as a childcare assistant and substitute teacher at Saint Anne’s Catholic School, and served as a Resident Hall Director at Winthrop. She was also actively involved in her sorority, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology with a minor in Secondary Education from Winthrop University in 1997. Lakisha remained at the school to pursue her master’s degree. She got that, and more, when she met Travis Bonner.

“I initially thought she was beautiful. I also thought she was very intelligent, very caring, and very passionate.” Travis says he also saw “an internal drive and passion.”

“It just springs from the complete place of wanting to help someone. I think that’s her driving force, to see growth in people, to go out each day and serve as a catalyst for change.”

“It just springs from the complete place of wanting to help someone. I think that’s her driving force, to see growth in people, to go out each day and serve as a catalyst for change.”

Both Resident Directors, the two began spending a lot of time together. Lakisha received her Master of Education degree in Counseling and Development with a concentration in School Counseling in 2000. She and Travis were married on July 10, 2004.

Travis moved to Georgia in 2002 to work as a school psychologist for Fulton County Schools. After getting married, Lakisha joined him. They lived in Jonesboro, and she found a position as a school counselor at A.Z. Kelsey Middle School in Griffin. The school closed a year later, and Lakisha sought high school counseling positions. She was thrilled when offered the job of school counselor at Jonesboro High School.

“She was one of the most professional and mild-tempered counselors I ever worked with,” former co-worker Mecoya Daniels says. “She was so sweet, approachable, caring, and firm all in one breath. You could feel the love for her job and her commitment to changing the lives of each student she met.”

Lakisha and her team of school counselors celebrate National School Counseling week in February 2017.

Lakisha and her team of school counselors celebrate National School Counseling week in February 2017.

Lakisha embarked upon another opportunity to help students, working as a Teenage Awareness Program Presenter with the Spalding County Juvenile Justice Department in Griffin.

“We worked on character, education, and decision-making skills, with a development program designed to build the skills of students.” says Travis, who later helped with the program.

Travis and Lakisha also had developments on the home front. They moved to Fayetteville in 2006. Their daughter Taylor was born in 2007. When Lakisha transitioned to a high school counselor at Whitewater High School in Fayetteville in 2008, the timing was perfect. The position at Whitewater allowed her to expand her professional horizons.

Lakisha and Family

Lakisha with husband Travis, son Noah and daughter Taylor

“This is when I increased my involvement in state-related meetings and the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC). I actually started conducting scholarship presentations and volunteering at the annual college fair,” Lakisha explains. Lakisha was setting the stage for what would become her life’s work on a higher level. That included expanding her family, welcoming son Noah in 2010.

As an adviser, Lakisha was always focused on helping students prepare for college if they desired. She was equally determined to help students forge technical career paths if that is what they wanted. But in 2013, when she was asked to attend several externships, the possibility of improving her advisement began to take shape. An externship offers adults the opportunity to go to a business and observe various positions – similar to an internship for a student. Lakisha, along with her co-workers, visited several Fayette County businesses. The experience was eye-opening.

A pivotal moment came for Lakisha when she visited Panasonic. She and several county coworkers were touring the facility. When Panasonic personnel said they needed 150 engineers, the team was interested in partnering with them to provide opportunities to Fayette County’s students. She was shocked by the response.

August 2018

Lakisha and Fayette County schools’ teachers and administrators suit up in preparation to tour the “clean room” at Gerresheimer in Peachtree City.

“What the businesses were saying is that your students aren’t coming prepared. They didn’t question their intelligence, however. They could teach them how to do this job.  What they couldn’t teach were good work ethics and professional skills,” Lakisha recalls. They emphasized that academics are essential, but not enough.

“They said, (the students) go and get a college degree, and the first time they ever work the job is when they come here…they have theory however they often lack the experience in applying it.”

“That was the deciding point with me. I started to see work-based learning in another light and what I could do to be a part of the solution.”

“That was the deciding point with me. I started to see work-based learning in another light and what I could do to be a part of the solution.”

Her passion for preparing students for their futures took another turn, and she realized that all students needed career-related experiences to be able to apply the book knowledge they learned in the classroom.

The mission engulfed Lakisha. She reached out to her school’s CTE department chair and the county’s coordinator to form a strategic plan.  Lakisha’s efforts have been noticed. The Fayette County School Counselors Association honored her as Counselor of the Year in 2014. Then, in September Lakisha was hired as the Work-based Learning and Youth Apprenticeship Specialist for Fayette County. The externships affected her life in unexpected ways.

“It also changed my household. At that time my son was three, and my daughter was six. We explored ways to start at home.  We came up with developmentally appropriate chores, and were intentional in the language we used with our children about chores.”

Lakisha

Lakisha with husband Travis, son Noah and daughter Taylor
on vacation in the mountains.

Chores, Lakisha says, that started early teaching them responsibility and developing a work ethic.  

“She definitely is a great mother who has a huge desire to have her children to be successful, but also for them to be great problem solvers,” Travis says.  “Our children are grounded in the Lord, and they have a good foundation from home in that aspect. She’s the kind of mother that is a great nurturer. She’s a huge disciplinarian. However, she does it with a great deal of love to make sure she’s training them in a path to be better people and that they can contribute to society.”

Lakisha knows that all students needed “real-world” opportunities to complete their entire educational experience, and the students’ career interest coupled with their related coursework is critical to the work-based learning structure. She understands that students’ academic, career and social/emotional (including mental health) development affects each other and should be intertwined to ensure that students are college and career ready.

Lisa Collins, Director for Career and Technical Education for Fayette County Schools, loved Lakisha’s approach.

“Lakisha is a gifted leader in counseling and career development, and (she has) passion for the work that she does – and not just passion, but she has a depth of knowledge,” Lisa says. “Because she’s passionate, she learns all that she can. She makes herself available and accessible to students, parents, and me.”

“When you hear her talk it’s inspiring,” Lisa says. “You can’t help but start to think about things a little differently.”

Lakisha also prepared herself for additional career opportunities. She received her Educational Specialist certification in Educational Leadership from the University of West Georgia in 2014. Then an offer came that Lakisha couldn’t refuse. In 2015, she became the Coordinator for Counseling and Career Development for Fayette County Public Schools. Her office is at the Center of Innovation (COI), which offers dual-enrolled college courses to Fayette County students.  Lakisha and Lisa work together at the COI to make sure that students have the opportunity to provide academics in a real-world context. By partnering with businesses and post-secondary schools, they are able to leverage lots of different resources and offer opportunities for students.

“She is the quintessential caring educator.”

Dr. Terry Oatts, currently Superintendent of Rockdale County Public Schools, previously served as Assistant Superintendent of Student Achievement for Fayette County Public Schools and had the opportunity to work with Lakisha in this position.

“Mrs. Bonner has developed a model dual-enrollment program that has been recognized statewide and duly commended by participating institutions and the Georgia Department of Education,” Dr. Oatts says. “Lakisha Bonner is a consummate helping professional who possesses a tremendous work ethic, and she is a passionate advocate for students and their postsecondary aspirations,” he says.

Lakisha Bonner August 2018

Lakisha has always been focused on helping students prepare for college if they so desired.

“We’re working to improve the vertical alignment by not only starting in elementary school exposing students to the 17 career pathways,” Lakisha explains, “but also working with students in middle and high school so that they understand how their coursework is related to their career interest. So, by the time they get to the junior and senior year, they can be out getting experience.”

“When they go off to school, based on this experience, they can make an informed decision about what is the best direction for their career path? Is going to technical school or a four-year school more beneficial for that path? Which is going to be more economical for their future goals?’”

Students form individual graduation plans by eighth grade, after studying a variety of careers and taking informational career interest/aptitude tests. Ultimately, they can avoid wasting time, effort, and money by being focused on and prepared for their career choices.

She was again honored by her peers for the 2016-2017 school year when the Georgia Association of Career and Technical Education awarded her the Career and Guidance Award.

Lakisha Bonner August 2018

Lakisha Bonner is the quintessential caring educator.

Lakisha is excited, as we head back to school, for the new challenges that lie ahead. She says parents are an integral part of the success of this process.

“Start early having those conversations about your expectations, what they should be doing and fostering their self-efficacy,” Lakisha advises. “Begin with the end in mind.” She also emphasizes the importance of reinforcing intangibles at home – good work ethic, respect, responsibility, and structure. Lakisha loves what she does, and knows the future has never been brighter for her Fayette County students.  

Her husband sums her up best: “She is the quintessential caring educator.”

MORE ABOUT LAKISHA

What’s a Day in the Life of Lakisha Bonner Like?

Wow, this question really makes me reflect.

I can say there isn’t a typical day in the life of Lakisha Bonner. My days can shift sometimes as often as the wind does. Whether it’s planning for work such as professional development opportunities or grocery list/shopping, putting out fires which can be as simple as argument between my son and daughter to putting an upset parent at ease on the phone to major crisis of the loss of a family member or student. Wake up each morning ready to handle whatever lies ahead of me….

I’m flexible and so are my days.

How Do You Balance Your Career and Family?

Due to my work ethic, I have to be intentional in keeping balance. I have a great support system of family and friends to remind me when I start to lose this balance. Every day, I have to be intentional in this effort. This is why planning is important. However, it is equally important to be able

How Do You Take Care of Yourself?

I have a great support system. Our family prays  together each morning (I pray throughout the day, read devotionals, occasionally journal); my children organize family walks (they like to help with the family’s physical well being); my husband is great at planning  activities that emphasize peace/rest And he cooks and is a great cook at that. My co-workers/friends are willing to lend a helping hand to get the job done and/or remind me to stop. “It” can be done tomorrow. to monitor and adjust when necessary.

What Might We Be Surprised to Know About You?

With all of my energy, it is not surprising that I love music. However, the image in my head does not match what others see on the dance floor. Also, I would love to learn to speak more languages.

What’s Your Favorite Way to Spend Leisure Time?

I love spending time with my family and being around them gives me so much peace! I love to bargain shop!  If it’s not on sale, it’s ugly. I love the beach, however we recently spent some time at the lake and that is a new favorite.

Lakisha Bonner 8_2018

Lakisha Bonner Fayette Woman August 2018

August 8, 2018
August 8, 2018

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