When Dylan Ferniany was selected as one of Birmingham Business Journal’s Top 40 Under 40 for 2016, the publication aptly described her as “standing firmly at the intersection of education and innovation in Birmingham.” Dylan serves as program specialist for the gifted and talented education program for Birmingham City Schools, and, through her involvement with TEDxBirmingham’s TED-Ed, she has done extensive work to foster innovative ideas in classrooms in Birmingham and beyond. We are excited to educate you on today’s FACE of Birmingham, Dylan Ferniany.
As the gifted education program specialist for Birmingham City Schools, what are your primary responsibilities?
I primarily coordinate the teachers of the gifted program, making sure they have what they need to do their jobs well. I try to promote the good things we have going on in the program and connect teachers to resources in our city. I’m focused on long-term planning and finding ways to improve the program for teachers, parents and students.
What’s the most challenging part of your job?
There are so many talented students in our schools. Making sure that we are reaching those students, identifying their talents and nourishing those talents can be difficult in a large school district. There is a great book by Sir Ken Robinson called The Element that informs the work I do. When people are “in their element,” they are doing what they love. I feel like it’s our responsibility to find the unique elements of our students and give them opportunities to thrive in doing what they love.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
In the summer I run Superintendent’s Academy, which is an academic program for middle school students. For the past two years, we have partnered with local organizations to come up with week-long projects for the students. With the Birmingham Museum of Art, we painted murals that are now in the Shields Center with a much larger community mural project. That’s really fun, because when you drive past you can see it off the highway, so I like to think about the kids being able to see what they did in the community. Red Mountain Park has also been an awesome partner. The kids have designed community gardens for the park. At the end of the program the students present what they have learned in an expo for their parents and community members. To me, that’s the most rewarding part of our work.
Tell us about your involvement with TEDxBirmingham.
TEDxBirmingham is an independently organized TED event where ideas are shared through TEDx talks. I am on the core organizational team and serve as a liaison to K-12 teachers, educational professionals and schools. For the past three years, we have run a fellowship that brings K-12 professionals together from all over the Birmingham area. We are working to support teachers who are running TED-Ed Clubs and TEDxYouth events or using TED talks in their classrooms.
How do you think TEDxBirmingham is helping the city?
TEDxBirmingham is one of the few places where people come together from all sectors to share ideas. Through TEDx, I’ve been in conversations with lawyers and doctors and people I would not normally meet in my day-to-day work. I met my fiancé through TEDxBirmingham and a good group of my friends I may not have known otherwise!
Tell us about your experience as a TED-Ed Innovative Educator. How were you selected? What projects did you do as part of this program?
I was part of the first beta cohort, and we were all selected because we were early adopters of TED-Ed Clubs programs, TEDxYouth events and TED talks or TED-Ed lessons in our classrooms. Each of the TED-Ed Innovative Educators did an innovation project. My project was to create a community of educators who were well-versed in TED-Ed Lessons, TED-Ed Clubs and TEDxYouth events. As part of the project, I shared TED-Ed with over 500 educators, with a lot of help from other teachers who are doing this work in schools now.
What changes would you like to see in our city’s schools?
For students to thrive and be “in their element,” they need exposure to many different programs and opportunities. We have great programs in Birmingham City Schools. For instance, our Career Academy program is an excellent way for students to discover their talents. Each school has academies that focus on industry-specific career preparation. We have several other programs in Birmingham City Schools such as robotics, debate, Junior United Nations and so many more that I hope to see growing and reaching more students.
What are some things you think our schools are doing well that are often ignored?
I think there is a lot of amazing interaction that goes on in the classrooms that you don’t see every day. For instance, the news doesn’t cover the day-to-day of teachers and students in the classroom, people just really caring and being so dedicated to these kids and really knowing them and knowing their families. All the time, I see extreme examples of caring, and I think that is not always shown in the media.
Tell us about some of your hobbies and interests.
I love yoga, especially paddleboard yoga, which I have tried twice through Yoga Trekking International at Oak Mountain. I’ve recently been trying to get back into art. I was really into art in high school, so I’ve been taking some classes at Space One Eleven. And I read a lot.
What are some of your favorite places in Birmingham?
I live downtown, so I love everything that I can walk to: Feast & Forest, Urban Standard, Tavern on 1st, Carrigan’s, McWane Science Center, Birmingham Museum of Art and the Theatre District. If you’re bored in Birmingham, that’s your fault!
Do you have any personality quirks or things people might be surprised to learn?
In 2005 I went on Semester at Sea and our boat got hit by a rogue wave in the North Pacific. People love that story, especially students! Also, I give the worst hugs. They’re so awkward. And all my friends and family would agree. I’ve been working on it my whole life.
What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
My dad gives me all sorts of advice, but my favorite from him is, “Everything takes the amount of time that you give it.”
Other than friends, family and faith, what are three things you can’t live without?
Coconut water, sushi and my passport.
Thank you to Eric and Jamie Gay of Eric & Jamie Photography for the fabulous photos of Dylan in her stomping grounds around Second Avenue in downtown Birmingham.