06/24/2014 01:49 pm ET Updated Jun 24, 2014

20 Years Inspiring Incarcerated Youth, And Tonya Threadgill Isn't Nearly Finished

NY Daily News/Getty Images

Many educators go above and beyond the call of duty, but very few do so for convicted prisoners.

Tonya Threadgill, the principal of Rikers Island's East River Academy for incarcerated students ages 16-21, is a veteran of the world of education. Yet even with two decades of inspiring young people under her belt, Threadgill continues with boundless determination to meet the responsibility she has assumed.

"I've devoted to my career to working with incarcerated youth. Although it's challenging, someone has to do the job," she told the Daily News last week.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the 50-year-old mother of four cares about her co-workers as much as she cares about her students. How can you tell? The Long Island native shares her personal love of food and cooking with everyone at the academy.

Not only does Threadgill encourage enrollment in East River Academy's two culinary classes, she sends employees home with a new recipe every week in the staff newsletter.

Students at East River academy follow the same curriculum as other New York City students, according to WNYC, although the use of certain learning tools, like calculators and Internet access, is restricted. The school held its largest graduation ever last year.

On Saturday, the Daily News announced that Threadgill had been nominated for the paper's prestigious Hometown Heroes award in education.

"It takes a really committed, devoted person to empathize and encourage [students] not to give up," Threadgill told the Daily News.

With financial entrepreneurship courses and social and emotional needs program development plans underway, it's safe to say that Threadgill's inspirational reign is far from over.



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