By: Julian Brenman ‘20
While most know Ms. Danielle Saint Hilaire as a dedicated and gifted teacher, few are familiar with the many fascinating journeys on which she has embarked. Ms. Saint Hilaire (or “Teacher Danielle”) joined the Friends’ Central faculty over the summer when she took on the roles of 9th and 10th Grade History Teacher, Student Council Co-Advisor, and 11th Grade Advisor. She teaches in room 30 of the Main Building.
Ms. Saint Hilaire was born and raised, until the age of eight, in Manhattan on 116th Street and Broadway. She then moved to the rural town of Garrison, New York, which is in the Hudson Valley. She reflects on the differences of these two very different places: “I had the ‘bright lights, big city’ experience, and went to the country. It was a huge contrast. When my family moved to Garrison, we were the first black family to live in that town. I never actually thought about it until recently, but we were the ones who integrated the school. That was different, going from being in a really diverse place, and then going on to be the only black child in my class.”
Ms. Saint Hilaire spent her early and mid-20s traveling the country. She lived in Manhattan and Phoenix, worked with developmentally-disabled children, served as an after-school teacher, and worked several service jobs. She then relocated to Philadelphia, where her career as an educator formally started, and her career as a student continued. She shares, “I was looking for a job here in Philadelphia, and because of my prior experience with children, I got a job as a preschool teacher. However, the director’s condition [for hiring me] was that she would only hire me if I went to college. She really believed in me. That really encouraged me to go to college.”
Following this encouragement, Ms. Saint Hilaire went to the Community College of Philadelphia “where I had my best ever teacher. I still talk to her today. One day, she pulled me aside after class, and she said, ‘Danielle, what are you doing here? What’s going on?’ She said, ‘You could go to Harvard, you could do anything you want to do.’ After this, she and I made a plan, and I applied to Bryn Mawr College, where I was accepted, and finished my Bachelor of Arts Degree in Sociology with a concentration in Africana Studies.” After completing her studies at Bryn Mawr, Ms. Saint Hilaire attended the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied in the PhD program to become a sociologist. Ms. Saint Hilaire explains, “a sociologist is a person who studies interactions between people.”
While Ms. Saint Hilaire continues to conduct some private sociological consulting, it was after studying at Penn she decided she wanted to become a teacher again. She returned to the Community College of Philadelphia, where she was on the faculty, and taught at several other universities and high schools: Northeast Philadelphia’s Holy Family University, where she taught sociology; South Philadelphia’s Franklin Towne Charter School, where she taught sociology in the gifted program; and West Philadelphia’s St. Joseph’s Prep School, where she taught U.S. government and phycology to 11th and 12th graders.
Ms. Saint Hilaire says that since her first moments on this campus, she has felt like Friends’ Central is home: “Friends’ Central is great. When I first came here and delivered my mock lesson, I just felt the joy. You guys were so joyful. People were smiling, they were happy to be in my mock lesson, they were engaged, and I was so happy to feel that. I wanted to be a part of that. The culture here is excellent. It’s the best part of being here.”
When not at school, Ms. Saint Hilaire, who speaks French and English, can be found in her Germantown home with her two daughters, who are both Friends’ Central Lower School students. She also enjoys spending time with her husband, Claude (whom she met in Haiti, following a post-earthquake service trip), sewing, and baking cookies using her “top-secret” family recipe.