Staff members of Nova Academy pose in their Breast Cancer Awareness T-shirts designed by teacher Sade Burkman and her students.

Staff members of Nova Academy pose in their Breast Cancer Awareness T-shirts designed by teacher Sade Burkman and her students.

By Barbara Mallory Caraway, Special Projects Director, Nova Academy, Dallas

Inspired by a cause close to her heart, one Dallas middle school teacher galvanized her school to action.

When her aunt died of breast cancer in 2014, Nova Academy English teacher Sade Burkman was devastated. Her aunt, Elizabeth Oyetunde, 50, of El Paso, lived with the disease for eight years and is survived by her five children.

She turned her grief into action and took up the crusade to educate others about breast cancer. She began before her aunt’s death, wanting to share risk factors, diagnosis and treatment options. In 2013, Burkman asked and received permission from her administrator for Nova Academy to join the public awareness campaign.

Sade Burkman, 7th and 8th grade English teacher at Nova Academy

Sade Burkman, 7th and 8th grade English teacher at Nova Academy.

That first year, she handed out pink ribbons in October for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The second year, Burkman created an informational display on breast cancer that included pink-colored paraphernalia.

This year, marks the first since Burkman’s aunt died and it holds special significance for her. She partnered with her students to design a T-shirt that would memorialize those impacted by breast cancer.

“I told them I wanted a heart (love), wings (faith), and ribbons (hope). After three tries they got it right,” she said.

Breast cancer is the second leading cause of death in women and one in eight U.S. women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, according to the National Breast Cancer Foundation. If found and treated early, many women can survive the disease. Burkman said it is important for students to understand this disease because of its broad implications for the victims and for surviving family members.

Participating in Breast Cancer Awareness Month helps to heal the pain of losing her aunt, she said. And having the school support her in the awareness efforts has been invaluable, she said.

“I am most grateful to [Nova Academy CEO] Donna Houston-Woods -- for her encouragement and support,” she said.

“I mentioned to her last year that I wanted to do something a little more, and I left it at that. When school started she reminded me of my intentions. She supported the T-shirt idea," Burkman said.

Staff members now wear the T-shirts every Wednesday in October.

With tears, she said, “I’m happy.”


Nova Academy serves more than 900 students at three campus locations in Dallas. The charter's mission is to educate all students in a multi-cultural environment where parents and the community will serve as partners in achieving academic excellence of our students.

From International Leadership of Texas

International Leadership of Texas started very strong. On its first day of school in 2013, there were 2,500 students in attendance. Enrollment has since doubled in two years at the nine Dallas-Fort Worth area campuses. And there is demand for more seats with more than 6,000 students on wait lists to enroll at an ILTexas school.

Charter leaders say it was those strong enrollment numbers combined with its academic and financial performance that resulted in ILTexas issuing $111 million in non-rated bonds this month.

“What makes this bond sale so very important to me is that it helps us lower our costs, which allows us to return some of the savings back to our teachers, who serve our most important people: The students and their families,” said Eddie Conger, ILTexas founder and superintendent.

The bonds were issued through the Clifton Higher Education Finance Corporation and were sold by bond underwriter BB&T Capital Markets to 14 investors. Many of those investors toured ILTexas campuses or met with the leadership team before investing. Also, two of the institutional investors had never before invested in non-rated charter school bonds.

ILTexas plans to grow an additional six campuses in Arlington, Keller and Katy within the next few years. Leaders say they plan to again utilize Charter School Fund leases with bonds issued later to acquire the facilities.

Unlike traditional public schools, public charter schools do not receive funding for facilities in Texas. That’s about a $900 per-student funding gap between public charters and traditional district schools. Public charter schools must meet the same academic and financial accountability standards as traditional districts, but with significantly less funding. Dollars that should go to the students in the classroom have to be used to pay for the school building.

To help fight for equitable funding for public charter schools, join the TX Charter Revolution.

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International Leadership of Texas prepares students for exceptional leadership roles in the international community by emphasizing servant leadership, mastering the English, Spanish and Chinese languages, and strengthening the body, mind and character.