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Meet our 2023 Educator of the Year

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CITIZEN OF THE YEAR AWARDS: Indrayudh “Indy” Shome

The Citizen’s Educator of the Year is a four language-speaking, music-playing, digital media expert who also loves to share his passion for gardens. He’s inspiring students across the city to make their voices heard

CITIZEN OF THE YEAR AWARDS: Indrayudh “Indy” Shome

The Citizen’s Educator of the Year is a four language-speaking, music-playing, digital media expert who also loves to share his passion for gardens. He’s inspiring students across the city to make their voices heard

In a classroom in North Philadelphia’s Murrell Dobbins Career and Technical Education (CTE) High School last spring, 11th grade students bustled around the room, checking cameras and microphones. They greeted guest Will Toms of REC Philly and prepared him to be interviewed, showing him where to sit, adjusting the lighting.

The flurry of activity was the culmination of two years of studying digital media, communication and music production as part of one of the school’s CTE programs. Ultimately, the students directed and produced a 42-minute video interview with Toms about his journey as a creator and entrepreneur.

It’s not what most people picture when they think of a typical day at school. But their mentor, Indrayudh “Indy” Shome, isn’t a typical educator. From 2020 to spring 2023, he worked as a teacher in Dobbins’ CTE program, leading the school’s media and music production program, from teaching podcast and video editing, to technical skills and entrepreneurship — preparing them for careers in our digital world.

But that’s not all. In collaboration with his colleagues at Dobbins, Shome launched Future Visions Lab, a paid, after school leadership program where students identify an issue in their community and develop a project around it. Students received $40 an hour (paid through grants they applied for) for their work.

In 2023, students in the program started a documentary about the connection between violence and environmental issues in Philly’s neighborhoods and planted a garden where students grow vegetables and herbs that students can use for cooking and natural cosmetic products. The program won a $10,000 Community Resilience and Environmental Justice Fund grant this past year to help sustain its efforts.

For his innovative approach to teaching and his fierce commitment to his students, Shome is being honored as the 2023 Educator of the Year. He’ll be celebrated alongside his fellow Citizen of the Year honorees at a program featuring MSNBC host Ali Velshi in conversation with actor/activist George Takei, on January 30. You can purchase tickets and find sponsorship information here.

An unlikely path to teaching

Shome never thought he would be an educator. “I loved learning. But I hated school and acted out all the time,” he says. “That was because I was trying to communicate things that I didn’t have words or pathways to convey.”

He speaks four languages and grew up in four countries — India, China (Hong Kong), Singapore and finally the U.S., where he moved for college. But he often encountered a disconnect between cultural stereotypes and what he knew to be true.

“He’s more than a teacher, and sometimes that’s what kids need.” — Tracy Duckery, Dobbins parent

On top of that, he grew up surrounded by different cultures and religions. His mom is Hindu; his dad, atheist; his stepmom, Muslim. He went to a Christian school in Hong Kong — surrounded by a community that practiced Taoism and Buddhism.

Those tensions and his innate curiosity led him to study music, economics, philosophy, brain science, media and narrative at Brown University. He hoped his studies would help him understand what he saw in the world around him. Instead, he found, “there was a lot that was left to be desired” even in the college classroom.

“It did not necessarily bridge some of the questions I had about how learning happens and how the brain works, what life is actually about, in meaningful ways,” Shome says.

From childhood, music was his refuge. His mother is ​​an Indian classical dancer. At 15, he started his own record label, Concrete Lo-Fi Records. Studying music gave him something that did make sense across different cultures and languages. He started working as a designer and filmmaker and performing music around the world.

Coming to Philadelphia

He moved to Philly in 2017 and took a job working as a part-time media instructor in WHYY’s education program, which partners with schools across the city. He loved teaching kids about digital media but, since the Media Labs program worked with over 55 different schools, he felt like he could only briefly connect with students. He wanted to embed himself within a community.

When his boss at WHYY told him the School District of Philadelphia was looking for someone to launch and lead a digital media CTE program with a music production program at the newly revamped Dobbins High School, Shome thought it sounded like a good fit. He applied and joined the District in 2020.

He instantly connected with the students at Dobbins. They felt misunderstood by their teachers just like he had, and had a passion for music that matched his own.

“I try to respectfully listen to young people,” Shome says. “As a student, I was in their shoes, and the few teachers who really saw what I needed and were able to meet me there really changed my life.”

Indrayudh “Indy” Shome. Photo by Sabina Louise Pierce.

Paving the way for the Peace Garden

In Dobbins’ CTE program, Shome worked with a cohort of digital media students starting in 10th grade and continuing to graduation. They shot and edited videos, like the interview with Toms, and made their own podcasts and music. In other parts of the school, students are enrolled in programs that focus on biotechnology, cosmetology or fashion design, and more.

“We were able to, within a class, talk about life, talk about mental health, talk about financial planning, talk about philosophy, talk about all this stuff. And that was all exciting to me,” Shome says. “We could actually redefine what school meant, instead of telling students to go to this class and then go to this class.”

He wanted to extend these interdisciplinary learning conversations across other CTE programs at Dobbins. So, in collaboration with Biotech teacher Kai Flowers, biology teacher Kelly Vranich, and African American history teacher John Winters, Shome co-created an after school program, now called Future Visions Lab, aimed at helping kids look at an issue in the city from different lenses. “The students defined the shape and direction of the club, and our role was to hold space, inspire, and facilitate,” Shome says. Last spring, the students decided they wanted to focus on the connections between gun violence and the environmental crisis. They started interviewing community members around the city and planned to make a documentary.

But as the students completed their interviews, they noticed that few spoke directly about gun violence. Instead, they spoke of struggles with poverty or food and housing costs — the root causes of violence. The students were beginning to see how all of these issues were connected. They decided they wanted to talk to people involved in urban agriculture, so they visited the North Philly Peace Park and the U School, a high school with its own garden.

“The students were like, Wait. Why can’t we do that? We have everything we need for that.” Shome says.

So Shome did what he always does when his students have an idea — what his most impactful teachers did for him: He helped them start one. Dobbins launched their Peace Garden in April 2023. The garden has two components: an outdoor space for both students and community members to grow food, and an indoor space with hydroponics where students can continue to grow plants in colder months.

“Within a couple of months, our after school program was literally working with the people who wrote the City’s urban agriculture plan,” Shome says. He’s referring to Soil Generation, a collective of Black and Brown women farmers who helped draft Philadelphia’s 10-year plan to support and expand the city’s food system. In the process, the students filmed more than six hours of footage for their documentary.

A love of learning

Dobbins senior Kameron Duckery says Shome helped him discover a love of learning. Before starting in Shome’s CTE program as a 10th grader, he felt school was “just a place he had to be,” his mother, Tracy Duckery, says.

Now, Kameron’s turned a nascent interest in music production into a passion for music and video editing. Last year, at Shome’s suggestion, he applied for Big Picture Alliance’s summer program, and has stayed. At the end of last school year, Kameron joined Future Visions and has been working with the other students. He’s currently applying to colleges with plans to continue studying media production. He credits Shome as being not just a teacher, but a mentor.

“My goal at the end of the day, no matter what, is for students to know that one person is fully on their team.” — Indy Shome

“None of the teachers have given me opportunities like Mr. Shome has,” Kameron says. “He’s opened me up to a lot of other opportunities that I never thought I would have gotten from another teacher.”

His mother, Tracy, gets choked up talking about the impact Shome has had on her son’s life. He’s helped Kameron find his passion and really love school. “He’s more than a teacher, and sometimes that’s what kids need,” she says. “He’s family to us.”

In September, Shome left his role at the School District to take a position as a different kind of educator — with the Philadelphia Orchard Project, planting community orchards in vacant lots across the city. He’ll work on communication, fundraising, storytelling and educational initiatives. It’s a role that combines many things he loves — sustainability, digital media and, of course, teaching.

“My goal at the end of the day, no matter what, is for students to know that one person is fully on their team,” Shome says. “We’re trying to provide a meaningful education for young people that will come back around in shaping the society that we live in.”

Indrayudh Shome is one of 11 Philadelphians who will be honored on January 30 at the inaugural Citizen of the Year Awards, featuring MSNBC’s Ali Velshi in conversation with actor and activist George Takei. To buy individual tickets, click here. If your company or organization would like to sponsor the event or purchase seats for a full or half table, please contact [email protected]



Indrayudh "Indy" Shome. Photo by Sabina Louise Pierce.

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