LifeChanger of the Year Nominee Profile

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Traci Thibodeaux

Position: Founder and School Director
School: Rêve Preparatory Charter School
School District: Rêve Preparatory Charter School
City, State: Houston, TX

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Music that Describes Traci

Traci Thibodeaux was nominated by a colleague, Erik Gomez.

Growing up in some of the most challenging neighborhoods in Houston, Ms. Thibodeaux always viewed education as the path to freedom. She had to travel out of her own community to find high-performing schools, which set her on the path to college and career success. Drawing from those personal early childhood experiences, she is committed to ensuring high-performing schools exist close to home.

Beginning at elementary school and all the way through high school, Ms. Thibodeaux was fortunate to take advantage of school programs in the Houston area. Although this allowed her to attend high-performing schools, it also meant personal sacrifices from her and her family. These sacrifices, along with the experience of growing up in poverty, left a lasting impression. They would provide the inspiration for the vision and mission of Rêve Preparatory Charter School, which serves the very same community where Ms. Thibodeaux grew up, Hiram Clarke in Houston.

“When I was younger and growing up in the community, my mother actually drove up to two hours to wealthier communities that had really great schools, which opened up all the doors I had after graduation,” said Ms. Thibodeaux. “I chose to start Rêve Prep because I never knew that I had an option not to go to college. That's essentially the environment I want all of our children to be exposed to.”

After graduating from the University of Texas and completing an MBA at the University of Michigan, Ms. Thibodeaux embarked on a successful career in corporate finance. However, amidst her growing professional achievements, the memories of her early childhood education were not forgotten. She was left with a desire to do more to give back. This desire drove Ms. Thibodeaux to leave her successful professional career, get an M.Ed., and begin work with Chicago Public Schools.

During Ms. Thibodeaux’s time with Chicago Public Schools, she led the Seal of Biliteracy launch across 18 high schools. It resulted in students receiving documentation stating their proficiency in English and a secondary language, supporting the students’ preparedness and applications for college. She was also a key contributor in the establishment and implementation of a K-12 STEM strategy for the district.

Ms. Thibodeaux recognized there was still a desire from her early experience to give back directly to her community. That led her to found and lead Rêve Preparatory Charter School in her hometown of Houston. The challenges the neighborhood faced in her early childhood are still there. Today, at Rêve Prep, almost 80% of the student body is economically disadvantaged, and over 50% is considered at-risk. In addition, almost 30% are English Language Learners, and over 20% have already experienced early childhood trauma.

Rêve Preparatory Charter School’s vision is that all students deserve a comprehensive, rigorous K-8 education that ensures their readiness for high school and college. Rêve Prep’s vision is established upon the following six core principles:

  1. A Strong Mind Opens Doors
  2. Purposeful Data Analysis Closes Academic Gaps
  3. A Strong Teacher Ensures Academic Growth
  4. A Focused Support System Drives Achievement
  5. A Strong Community Fosters Success
  6. Values and Habits Build Community

“It sets a model for what these kids can accomplish in the future. It’s going to stay in their parents’ and siblings’ minds, and I think that can only benefit this community,” said Odis Garrett, a teacher at Rêve Prep. “I want them to understand there are no limits to what they can do.”

To fulfill Rêve Prep ‘s vision, Ms. Thibodeaux developed a unique design to support students academically. A two-teacher model allows students to receive high quality instruction and get the personalized support necessary to achieve their academic goals. Spanish is offered for all students beginning at kindergarten, which gives them a strong foundation in another language to ensure a path to be college-ready by the time they graduate from the eighth grade. A focus on literacy and math is another core foundational element to the educational model at Rêve Prep, with increased instructional time in literacy and math.

“Our experience at Rêve Prep has been excellent. My kids are learning at a high speed,” said a parent. “What I love about Rêve Prep is that there are two teachers in each classroom. It gives the students the opportunity to have one-on-one instruction with the teachers.”

Character development is also a central aspect of Rêve Prep’s unique design developed by Ms. Thibodeaux to help children excel in life. A daily focus on the school’s RÊVED-UP values – Respect, Êxcellence, Virtue, Enthusiasm, Determination and Understanding, Preparedness – ingrains the characteristics necessary to ensure a safe learning environment and help students develop the habits required to overcome challenges and reach their goals.

  • Respect – We treat all people, including ourselves, with kindness.
  • Êxcellence – We always do our very best.
  • Virtue – We do the right thing, at all times.
  • Enthusiasm – We do things with eager enjoyment.
  • Determination – We keep trying and do not give up.
  • Understanding – We care about how others feel.
  • Preparedness – We are always ready. 

“Our kids start in kindergarten here with high expectations, which helps set that foundation of, 'As I keep growing, I know what my goals are. I know what my future is going to look like,'” said Rosa Torres, Dean of Curriculum and Instruction. “I think that’s really important, especially with our black and brown community, because we don’t often see our students being empowered by that.”

Even through the many unforeseen extraordinary challenges in 2020 due to COVID-19, and in addition to the typical challenges the school faces in the community, Rêve Prep continued to make positive progress towards its mission. A major milestone was all students either meeting or exceeding testing expectations after moving to virtual, remote classes at the end of the school year. That was followed up by the school doubling its student enrollment in its second year of classes and successfully passing its first external and TEA audits. Finally, after obtaining a significant grant earmarked for facilities from a major local foundation, the school has commenced exploratory actions to build a new, fully owned school facility to support Pre-K through Grade 8.

“The name of the school, Rêve, means to dream in French. The philosophy is making sure that we give our students the skills and knowledge to turn their dreams into reality,” said Ms. Thibodeaux. “If a student comes with us, we will be doing everything possible in combination with their family and parents to make sure they are prepared for college.”

Ms. Thibodeaux brings a true understanding of the social and economic hurdles faced by many of the children living in the Central Southwest community of Houston. She is committed to maximizing the lessons she has learned in her professional career to provide a high-quality education that not only prepares students for college, but grows each child in a holistic way to ensure they have the support to grow into healthy, confident members of their community. This is truly exemplified by Rêve Prep’s mission statement:

“Educating kindergarten through grade eight students for success in high school, college, and beyond, Rêve Preparatory Charter School ensures rigorous academics, individualized supports, and purposeful character development for every student, every day.”

Comments (11)

Cheryl Thornhill Posted over a year ago

Congratulations Traci! So happy you were able to make your career dream come true. ???????? Cheryl

Jesus Terrones Posted over a year ago

I cannot think of a more deserving selfless leader for this Life Changer award than TRACI THIBODEAUX. Her passion to give back to our Houston youth is second to none and contagious. Traci's passion, energy, and smile make you want to work harder and with her to serve our youth. I feel blessed to be on the board that supports Traci's vision and purpose. Traci is the heart of Reve Prep Charter School. Traci's legacy is already one that makes Houston a much better place for the families of Rêve Prep Charter School. I am happy to without hesitation attend any meeting or conference to endorse Traci's nomination in person. Thank you in advance for selecting Traci as she naturally embodies the values of the prestigious Life Changer award and truly deserves the recognition.

Tonya Davis Posted over a year ago

I wholeheartedly endorse Traci’s nomination as LifeChanger of the Year. Admittedly, when I was first approached to consider being a member of the Rêve Prep board, I was hesitant. However, upon my initial conversation with Traci, I was compelled to join her in this most ambitious endeavor. Her story truly resonated with my own educational and career path that benefitted from school and community programs that propelled me out of a very similar neighborhood in the Midwest. My work in education and workforce development programs over the past 15+ years has convinced me of one thing for sure – high school is too late! If personal paradigms are not intercepted early in a child’s development, the probability that they will have the fortitude and grit required to succeed is greatly reduced. The RÊVEDUP values that are the foundation of her educational philosophy and upon which this school is built are exactly what’s needed for students to achieve their dreams. I am honored to have the opportunity to work alongside Traci to make an impact on children’s lives that can change the trajectory of the future personal, professional, and economic success for generations to come.

Paul Belin Posted over a year ago

I have known Traci for close to three years and have had the opportunity to serve on the board of Reve Prep. In that capacity, I am consistently amazed by Traci's boundless energy and commitment towards making the school the incredible school it has become in a such a short time. Traci exhibits an impressive mix of compassion and management acumen that inspire those around her -- including myself -- every time we interact. To me, no one more embodies the name of this award than Traci -- someone who is so driven and compelled to make every effort to creating an environment that is improving the lives of so many children; putting them on a path to success both now and for the rest of their lives. I am genuinely proud to get to cooperate with Traci as often as I do and put the highest value all she's brought to Reve Prep.

Sally Sun Posted over a year ago

It is my honor to support Traci's nomination. As Rêve Prep board member, I have had the opportunity to work with Traci and to witness her persistent passion, vision and effort in bringing education equality to the SW Houston neighborhood. Traci's work and dedication is impacting hundreds of students and their families. The community is much better because of Traci. She deserves the award.

Sally Sun Posted over a year ago

Traci has demonstrated persisting passion and leadership in the effort of bringing education equality to SW Houston neighborhood. I have had the opportunity as a board member of Rêve Prep to witness her overcoming challenges to grow the school, to care for the families and to keep the classroom lights on. It is my great honor to support Traci's nomination. She definitely deserves it.

Paul Belin Posted over a year ago

I have known Traci for almost three years now and have grown to consider her one of the most exceptional and inspiring people in my life. Traci has exhibited a relentless passion and incredible amount of progress in taking her idea of Reve from seed to bloom. As a member of the Reve board, I am consistently impressed by her steadfast dedication to improving every element of school and the ambitious goals she consistently meets in terms of both growth and quality. From my view the impact of Traci's work is both admirable and will be felt by the current generation of her students and beyond, in that she has created equal opportunities to be successful in this life for so many students. The balance of exceptional management with compassion is truly amazing to see. I continue to be impressed by Traci and the work she does every single day, I consider myself one of many lucky to have the opportunity to see her in action. I can't imagine somone who embodies the attributes of a "lifechanger" or is more deserving of recognition than Traci.

Will White Posted over a year ago

Traci is a uniquely talented person who can dream big and execute on her vision. She built Rêve Prep from scratch because the students in the neighborhood where she grew up weren't receiving the education they deserve. She exudes passion for her students and her relentless energy is felt by everyone who meets her. I have the pleasure of seeing Traci in action as a board member of Rêve Prep and am inspired by her passion every time we talk.

Sally Sun Posted over a year ago

I have witness Traci devoting nearly her entire life the great cause of education equality. She is persistent on her vision since the beginning. Under her leadership, the Rêve Preparatory Charter School has grown at a fast speed while retaining the community uplifting figure. I have no doubt that hundreds and then thousands of students and families in central southwest community of Houston are benefiting from Traci's leadership as of now and for their life time.

Dr. Toscha Dickerson Posted over a year ago

I have had the pleasure of knowing Traci for a few years and she is an awesome lady. She is a visionary with a big heart. She is committed to changing the lives of children so they may experience the best education there is to offer. Her tenacity inspires me to do my best to ensure that children and others within the community are receiving the proper care they deserve. I will always remember Traci as a trailblazer and so will those who have been impacted by her work.

Fabiola Fadda-Ginski Posted over a year ago

I had the pleasure and the privilege of working with Traci in my capacity of world language manager in the Office of Language and Cultural Education in Chicago Public Schools. Traci at that time was in charge of spearheading the State Seal of Biliteracy Initiative for our district. She was an incredible and consummate professional, indefatigable in her efforts and incredibly organized and innovative. Her presence was both stabilizing and motivating for our unit. Four years have gone by and we still remember her incredible contribution to our work and we greatly miss her still. I will always count myself lucky for having been able to work with this remarkable colleague and human being.