LifeChanger of the Year Nominee Profile

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Ada Riggins

Position: First Grade Teacher
School: King Open School
School District: Cambridge Public Schools
City, State: Cambridge, MA

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Music that Describes Ada

Ada Riggins was nominated by Michael Walker, a member of the community.

"She shows an uncanny sensitivity to what young people are interested in and meshes it with the needs of our society," are the words a homeless woman used to describe Ada Riggins during breakfast one Sunday morning.

Ms. Riggins teaches in Cambridge, MA, but she is also the worship leader of a church's Jazz Worship Service at 8am every Sunday. The words of the homeless woman that Sunday were absolutely accurate -- every week, Ms. Riggins turns the worship space into a classroom learning laboratory. She reads picture books, gives assignments, and holds skits involving all ages, races, social classes.

Her lessons, conveyed with touching simplicity and never heavy hand, are twofold. One component is to encourage people to talk to one another about current affairs. The second is what another Jazz Worship band member calls "the other curriculum," which allows children and adults, wealthy and homeless to feel comfortable with their emotions and their differences. 

Ms. Riggins is a brilliant teacher as she transforms Sunday morning Jazz Worship Service in her learning laboratory!

Comments (40)

Rozita Waltower Posted over a year ago

I became acquainted with Ada Riggins through my church, Messiah Baptist in Brockton when she and her husband joined as deacons. We bonded via our mutual love of music. When she became our choir director, I saw her energy and enthusiasm--it is infectious! I related to her desire for 100% participation, addressing the needs of all choir sections and musicians; making sure that we are prepared. These are the qualities of a good leader and teacher. We also share careers (I am a former school teacher). Since joining the choir I have learned new skills becoming more adept with communicating via texts and using YouTube--some of her favorite tools! All of these qualities reflect a great teacher as she is.

Juanita Janey Posted over a year ago

Deacon Riggins: My friend told me about the 8am service to Messiah Baptist Church. Messiah, is the church I grew up from childhood with my brothers. Deacon Riggins welcome me back home with open arms. When I ask her if she knew Rev. William Janey, Deacon Riggins said sure, he preach here often. I introduce myself as his only sister and she held me with such love and said welcome home. You can't ask for a better homecoming than that.

Dara Manoach Posted over a year ago

I feel fortunate that my daughter was in Ada's class for two years. She was a superb conductor of a very unruly orchestra and taught the kids with boundless enthusiasm and joy. Very effective teacher!

Marsha Murdaugh Posted over a year ago

Ada is a true inspiration and encouragement to those she encounters daily. It is such a privilege to know her and a joy to participate in a choir and Women's group with her. When we consider that "our children are our future", it's reassuring to know that Ada is there pouring knowledge, wisdom and life lessons into them. She is truly a life changer.

Theodore Lund Posted over a year ago

We were privileged to have Ada Riggins as the first grade teacher for our first child. Ada is extraordinarily engaged not just with her students but with the students of the King Open School as whole. Her love of teaching, children and helping those children evolve was apparent in parent - teacher conferences and pretty much any interaction I have had with her. Our second child was made to feel welcome by Ada even before she attended the school. Ada's smile, laughter, and love of music make walking into and being a part of her classroom an extraordinary experience.

Abby Fechtman Posted over a year ago

Ada is a wonderful, caring teacher, a vibrant community leader and a powerhouse of energy at the King Open School. My daughters were not in Ada's class, but they always enjoyed her amazing MLK Day/Black History Month programs and her impact on 1st & 2nd grade community/social studies breakfast programs. Ada is always the first one out of her chair to lead the songs and the students, teachers and caregivers love to sing along. When we were in the old King Open building I would often run into Ada in the cafeteria before school, picking up breakfast items for a few students in her class who always arrived just as class was starting, but after school breakfast was finished. She wanted to make sure that every child in her class was fed and ready to learn. She has a huge heart and is an inspiration to all.

Matt LaRue Posted over a year ago

For me, Ada is all about voice: her voice, which you hear down the halls as you walk into school in the morning, announcing the joy of a new day to her students, or simply singing to her music as she prepares her classroom for the day, or leading the students in song at assembly; and also the voices of her students, including my daughter, who have learned from her the importance of how find their own voice in first grade, and how to use it do positive things like speak for themselves.

Neusa DaCosta Posted over a year ago

My son was fortunate to have Ada as his first grade teacher. Ada is a great educator, a supportive colleague, a ray of sunshine, a big kind-hearted human being with a beautiful voice and an infectious smile!

Randa Ghattas Posted over a year ago

Ada was my daughter's first grade teacher and, now, in third grade, she is still an important part of her life. She is an amazing and powerful person. Her class was always warm and safe and cheerful. Music emanated from her classroom, making it joyful and happy. She supported my daughter and became an inspiration to her. She knew her strengths and weaknesses and knew how to help her grow positively. When Ada does her annual Black History Month celebration, my daughter demands to participate. It always amazes me because she refuses to perform otherwise. I am so grateful for her presence in my daughter's life! Thanks Ada.

Susan Forrest Posted over a year ago

Ada is a stellar colleague, teacher and friend. She always finds ways to lift others to be/see their better selves. She readily recognizes the details that consume a childs attention, and deftly helps those stuck to move forward step by step. She brings helpful perspective, tremendous warmth, and the joy of singing to our work every day. I am so grateful for how she has blessed and changed my life by her example.

Jen Mason Stott Posted over a year ago

I am lucky enough to call Ada a colleague, but I really think of her as a mentor. Her tireless love, encouragement, wisdom, and teaching talent have inspired and kept me going so many times over the years I've worked at her school. She is the glue that holds our social justice school together. She never gives up on a child, always has a kind word for a colleague, and cares for us with flowers or snacks in the teachers' room "just because." Her passion for books, her respect for each child, her always-present curiosity and joy, inspire all of us to do our best.

Vivian Stephens-Hicks Posted over a year ago

Ada Riggins is a dear friend whom I love. She has the heart of a servant and the spirit of generosity. She gives of herself in totality, always willing to do what she can to help. I've interacted with Ada in many ways, including in a choir, in worship, in an educational setting and socially. In all aspects, she demonstrates and expresses a giftedness that is very inspiring. She truly allows the beauty that is within her to shine for all to see.

Jill McCain Posted over a year ago

Even though my children have not had the benefit of having Ms. Ada as one of their teachers, they have benefited from hey immense warmth, enthusiasm, and joy. She spreads these qualities throughout the community, beyond her classroom and into our at large. Her dedication, tireless work and immense heart are apparent to all who see get in action in her classroom, at assemblies and at every school gathering. She is a priceless member of our amazing school.

sarah p morris Posted over a year ago

Speaking as the parent of two children who have attended the King Open, Ada is such a vibrant part of the school community. She's tireless, committed, creative, warm, and caring ... and she gets everyone singing at school assemblies. I can't imagine the school without her.

Marc McGovern Posted over a year ago

Ada was my son's first grade teacher many years ago. She had unique way making sure that each child in her class felt valued. School was not always the easiest for my son, even back then, but Ada had a way of connecting with him it made him look forward to going to school everyday. My son is now 18 you will be heading off to college and I'm still grateful to Ada for giving him such a solid early start.

Robyn Mars Posted over a year ago

I am privileged to know Ada and to sing in a choir that she sometimes leads. I absolutely love her energy every time she leads us. I think that she is a great choice for this award.

Ellen Quinn Posted over a year ago

I am so lucky to be working with Ada since starting at King Open the same year. She always has a smile on her face and makes one always welcome in her class as well as her life. She is truely an inspiration and an amazing, coworker and dear friend. She has changed my lfe more than once. Thank you Ada

Isaac Ruffin Posted over a year ago

Ada Ruffin my baby sister is second to none. I am proud to be her brother and much more very honored to tell you she is a stellar performer in all aspects. She truly is a Life-changer and makes the difference with that certain quality of humility and genuineness that is rare but much needed in the world we live. The words caring, loving, kind do not adequately describe Ada. She is proactive and thoughtful on all levels her heart goes into which she does and she is for real. A lasting impact she makes with her tireless efforts to ensure success and completeness. She is by far top of her class. I am personally touched by her love for family and friends even strangers. They way she does simple and small things goes a long way just to solidify she loves you. Ada is one you can truly count on in any circumstance. Ada Riggins the Life Changer.

Gabriel Baldwin Posted over a year ago

As an outside provider for the district I am in and out of schools all day. Several years ago I was in Ada's classroom for a series of classes and she was an amazing teacher to witness with her students - her warm demanding way with them is kind and encourages wholehearted engagement! She always welcomed me in her class and I look forward to visiting her school even to this day because of the genuine caring welcome she gives me when we see each other in the hall. When I heard that she was nominated for this award I was grateful because her long term excellence deserves to be recognized. I also work with high schoolers and you wouldn't believe it but I've heard them mention unprovoked how they remember way back in elementary school being in her class! She has made a significant positive impact. I'm glad she has been nominated.

James Ruffin Posted over a year ago

Ada Riggins, my baby sister, was born to teach young people to reach their fullest potential. She is caring, giving, and always sharing her God given talents with others. She loves to teach and brings out the absolute best when she is doing it. She is a wonderful person to be around and lights up the room with her smile and charm, and an incredible personality. She never forgets dates and unlike most people today, writes her letters, cards, and even thank you notes by hand. Her penmanship stands out among others because she takes her time and has invested long hours perfecting what she loves to do, write as well as teach.

Kathleen Kolman Posted over a year ago

I'm so pleased and not at all surprised that Ada is nominated for Lifechanger of the Year. Ada Riggins is a master educator! She teaches to the body, mind, spirit, and brings out the best in each of her students. She sees the potential in everyone, teaches self discipline (required to become your best in life), loves each student, and honors them right where they are. Ada is also a master musician. Her use of singing and rhythm in the daily routines is phenomenal! I can't think of anyone more deserving of this award.

Jerrell Riggins Posted over a year ago

Ada Riggins is a dedicated and committed educational servant. She has the heart and the love for the children. The many talents she possess is her reading ability to the children, penmanship, and the energy and personality to connect with her 1st graders. You will not find a more enthusiastic educator that is excited about the school year and come up with creative activities and foster a healthy learning environment.

Ella LaRue Posted over a year ago

Ada was my 1st grade teacher. She's a really, really, really, really good singer. I love doing the chorus with her every year that celebrates Black History Month. She always made me feel comfortable in class. She's a great teacher and she's really good at helping me learn.

steve LaMaster Posted over a year ago

My daughter did not have the pleasure of receiving Ada as a classroom teacher, but has nonetheless been encouraged, cajoled, and supported as a community member since she was 5 years old by Ms. Riggins (she's now 11). I've always valued the way she steps out of her experience with her classroom to participate in larger community events, the value that she has added over the years to the schools arts programming (especially the music) and he presence at the school.

Jill Netchinsky-Toussaint Posted over a year ago

I was so pleased to learn that Ms.Ada Riggins is being considered for the LifeChanger of the Year award. Our son (now 23-year-old graduate of Wesleyan University) was lucky to have Ms. Ada as his teacher for 1st- and 2nd-grades at the Martin Luther King Open School in Cambridge, MA. All these years later, she remains an unforgettable light in our family's lives— proof of the far reach of Ada's positive influence! As "class parent", I saw closeup and firsthand the hard work, expertise, patience, and passion that Ada Riggins brings to her students, the school, families, and all communities she touched. Every child was a complex individual to her, and she had the knowledge, experience, and magic powers to bring out the best in every one. She understood, before it was trendy, that academic skills, emotional, artistic and cultural competency were equally important to her students' development. She had high expectations, and helped students in every way to reach them. It is, unfortunately, still rare to have teachers of color in the classroom, and it was clear that Ada's presence at the King Open benefitted students and families of all ethnicities. We are grateful to have had Ada Riggins in our lives, and glad to see that her works continue to benefit and bless our varied communities. Our son devotes much of his time today giving back' to the communities that benefited him, and we know that Ms. Ada inspired him. She deserves the Lifechanger award many times over. Thank you.

Yaminette Diaz-Linhart Posted over a year ago

Ms. Ada is my daughter's 1st grade teacher and she has been an incredible source of support for her this year. She is a role model for the children and caregivers, has an incredible passion for teaching and consistently goes above and beyond in her day to day work. We are so grateful to have Ms. Ada as part of our community and our child's life.

Jennifer Brill Posted over a year ago

Ada was my son's 1st and 2nd grade teacher at King Open. My son is now 21 and a junior in college. Being in Ada's classroom still stands out for me as a high point and crucial part of his education. Ada is wise, warm, creative, enthusiastic and inspiring. She teaches to the whole child and has the experience and expertise to truly individualize each child's experience while simultaneously creating a genuine classroom community. I credit her with being an important part of both my son's early journey to becoming a young man and my own evolution as a parent. I looked forward to her smile every morning and knew my son was in terrific hands. I still feel grateful she was part of our lives and would love to see her honored with this award-- she definitely deserves it!

Leslie Brunetta Posted over a year ago

Ada Riggins is a dedicated, thoughtful, hard-working teacher. And she's fun! For years, she has been a joyful, strong moral center to the King Open public school who makes her students feel loved and valued, which is the best start in school a child can have.

Sahori Maruhashi Posted over a year ago

Ms. Ada is a brave warrior and stands for justice and equality. Her compassion, open mindedness as a human being and experience and passion as a teacher lead our children and community to the right direction. Her soulful sing wakes our up and gives awareness of that we should enjoy life in the community and help each other for brighter future. She deserves the award and we roar “Ms.Ada is incredible and we are lucky to have her !!!”

Nhi-Ha Trinh Posted over a year ago

Both my children were so fortunate to have Ada as their first grade teacher. Her enthusiasm and bright smile are infectious! To this day, my children and I look forward to her hugs and greetings every morning. Her love for teaching (she calls it rightfully her vocation) and music are an inspiration. She is the beloved heart of the King Open community.

Sahori Maruhashi Posted over a year ago

We moved in Cambridge last August and were getting nervous about huge transition from Singapore. On the first day of school, I was so anxious about my son who was assigned to Ms.Ada’s classroom. However, her kindness and compassion blew our anxiety away. She welcomed all of us with smile and beautiful words. She said we are welcome and she is glad to have us as one of our King Open families and community. You can’t imagine how much I felt secure with her kindness. Since that day, my son and we parents have engaged school events, her classmates and their families so much ! Her open mindedness and well integrated class lead us to the right direction and makes our new life here happier. She is an exceptional teacher and our mentor as well. I can’t thank her enough and love our school and classmates so much !

Tammy Posted over a year ago

I. Am so greatfull. and congrats to you are great teacher and person

Safrya Browne Posted over a year ago

Ms. Ada is an amazing teacher. My daughter enjoy going to chorus every week because of Ms. Ada. She brings out the best of her students. Ms. Ada is a beacon of light, guiding the way for all students and families.

Elizabeth Castellana Posted over a year ago

Ada is a ray of sunshine, love, rainbows and unicorns- glitter too. She lights up a room, inspires those around her to love harder, live louder, and persist and persist and persist. I am honored to have worked with her.

Benjamin Pickard Posted over a year ago

Ada is an incredible teacher. She cares deeply about her students and teaches them how to be confident in their abilities. I am happy that she is nominated for this award!

Sarah Christopher Posted over a year ago

This is a well deserved honor for a teacher who cares deeply for children and inspires them every day. She uses her beautiful singing voice to engage children throughout the school and also leads the chorus for our annual MLK assembly. We are so honored and appreciative to have Ada as my daughter's first grade teacher.

Bob medeiros Posted over a year ago

Ms Riggins Is a great person to be a nominee for this award she goes well beyond her teaching roles at the school to help everyone i am so glad to see she was nominated for this award

Camille LUBIN Posted over a year ago

Congrats to teacher Ada! She is a real great teacher ! She teaches her students how to improve themselves, how to be, how to learn, how to be very good and clever persons, how to be confidents in themselves and so many other things... She always keeps smile and energy in any circumstances. She's an amazing singer too!!!! What luck to meet her, what luck for my daughter and all the first graders in KO school!! Thank you so much and congrats again!! Bravo!!

Yasmine Babio Posted over a year ago

Ada is one of the most passionate and caring people I've had the honor of working with. Her classroom is a welcoming and supportive place filled with laughter and learning. She is flexible and creative, all the qualities that makes her a cherished teacher and a terrific colleague. Ada deserves to be nominated Lifechanger of the Year!

Caleb Dubofsky Posted over a year ago

Ada's bright smile and positive energy are a great way to start the day. She is always finding ways to connect with everyone, staff, students, families and community. I couldn't think of a better teacher/colleague/friend to be nominated!