© 2019 by Bernette Dawson for Cambridge School Committee Vote #1

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Daughter of a Jamaican immigrant father and a mother of Caribbean descent, Bernette was raised with a strong work ethic and the belief that education was a gateway to a great life. From the age of 11, Bernette was bused from Boston to Natick, where she attended the public schools through the METCO program. That experience gave her an early window into the injustice built into the education system in the United States: Kids in her home neighborhood of Mattapan had to fight for access to the opportunities her Natick classmates took for granted.

 

Her passion for equity in education was strengthened by her experience as the mother of a child with special needs—as a toddler and into his elementary years, it was clear that Bernette’s older son, Ameir, now an 8th grader, had learning differences that required fierce advocacy to ensure he received the services he needed. The CPS Special Start program helped Bernette connect with teachers who would join her in championing her son, guiding her through the IEP process and supporting his social emotional development. 

 

Bernette saw other families hire education advocates—a service Bernette and her husband Abdul couldn’t afford—so she took the role on herself, making sure any service that could help Ameir was provided. By third grade, Bernette and Abdul were convinced that there was a piece of the puzzle missing, and after more thorough diagnostic evaluation, Ameir was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. They had finally found the key to understanding and helping their son—he is, in Bernette’s words, “a twice exceptional learner.”

 

Ameir’s diagnosis spurred Bernette to seek out additional training and increase her advocacy work for children with special needs. She joined and trained with the Parent Leadership in Autism Network (PLAN), and has worked with other ASD families to help ensure that their children receive the best possible services. She also became an active volunteer at her sons’ school—acting as treasurer of Friends of Baldwin, a room parent, a School Council member, joining the Friends of RAUC Committee, and actively volunteering at both Baldwin and RAUC.

 

Bernette lives in West Cambridge with her husband Abdul (who she met at Brandeis College), Ameir (8th grade) and Zion (3rd grade). A Registered Nurse who worked at the Lahey Clinic before leaving to care for her mother after a serious accident, Bernette completed the WIN Lab Babson College venture accelerator through the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership (CWEL) at Babson College. She is now a small business owner (her organic body-care line, Made Organics, is sold online and at farmer’s markets throughout the Boston area) and she revels in teaching her sons the ropes of the entrepreneurial life—they have even started their own clothing line, AWSM BRWN. A quick learner who is not afraid of hard work, Bernette is excited and ready to take on the challenge of finding solutions for every child in the Cambridge Public Schools.

About Bernette