An Illustrious Teaching Career Honored – Sukhada Devi Dasi Retires
By Sridevi dasi
After an illustrious and pioneering teaching career which began in 1970, Sukhada devi dasi is now retiring from active teaching. Instrumental in starting what is currently known as the Bhaktivedanta Academy, as well as the Alachua Learning Center charter school, we would like to honor her contribution to the lives of many children as well as her creation of innovative curriculums. She will remain with the schools in a mentoring capacity.
Sukhada prabhu knew her whole life that teaching was her calling. As the oldest of four children, she remembers always wanting to “play school” where she would be teacher to her younger siblings. In 1970, she received a teaching degree from Michigan State and immediately began teaching third and fourth grade. Although liking it very much, she began to acknowledge an emptiness within. A lack of complete knowledge about the ultimate goal of life made her question what she was teaching. “If I don’t know the purpose of life, how can I teach others?” she thought.
After three years of teaching in Michigan, she decided that she needed to travel and explore various paths such as yoga in order to find complete knowledge. She wanted to find meaning in life and share that with the children; to feel a part of the “solution” was important, especially during times in history which were turbulent and uncertain. In 1973, Mukhya devi dasi and her husband Brajendralal das brought Sukhada to the ISKCON temple in Detroit. Reading Srila Prabhupada’s books immediately struck a chord. The next day she chanted sixteen rounds – and hasn’t stopped since.
The following 15 years were spent engaged in book distribution, mainly at the Miami International Airport, alongside Nartaka Gopal devi dasi. Then, in 1990, with 15 years of practicing Krishna consciousness, Sukhada prabhu returned to teaching. She was instrumental in starting the gurukula school at New Raman Reti in 1990 as one of its founding teachers and curriculum developers. The gurukula became a flourishing school for devotee children, at one point accommodating up to 80 students. It eventually evolved into the present day Bhaktivedanta Academy.
In 1999, she helped to write the charter for the Alachua Learning Center (ALC), understanding the need for the gurukulis who had finished sixth grade. She also helped to create a large portion of the curriculum. After its creation, she spent 14 years teaching Language Arts at the ALC to students in the 5-8th grades. Her curriculum at the ALC bore an emphasis on Values, Multiculturalism, and Life Skills. The projects she chose always aimed to make school meaningful for the children, relating it to the “real world.” The students were given ample academic choices, and the projects given were varied and hands-on, such as Save the Cow, or humor therapy in hospitals. Another project was that each child had to write a book expounding one value.
In 2013, a middle school was started at the Bhaktivedanta Academy. Desiring to help develop that effort, Sukhada prabhu returned to the gurukula. At the Bhaktivedanta Academy, she sought to make Krishna Consciousness interesting and fun for the children, while maintaining academic vigor. Although challenged at the charter school to instill values in the children without mentioning Krishna, she was able to teach Krishna Consciousness directly at BANA.
Sukhada prabhu’s teaching philosophy has always been to create an environment that feels like “our family classroom.” A positive and peaceful experience for the children was her foremost goal. For example, every morning at BANA “sharing time” enabled the children to voice their concerns or just share with “the family” what was happening in their lives. She believes strongly that the only way to positively change the world is through influencing children. Every student needs somebody to believe in their abilities, and she feels blessed to have played that role to so many. The affection given to the children was returned to her exponentially.
“It takes a village to raise a child” is a motto that Sukhada prabhu feels grateful to have experienced here at New Raman Reti. Throughout her career she has endeavored to be attentive to her personal devotional practices, believing that doing so would give her the mercy from Srila Prabhupada to be the best teacher she can be. While remaining in a mentoring capacity to the children, she looks forward now to spending more time on personal devotional practices, including preaching, writing, and class-giving.