As we inch closer to the end of our Inspiring Women Series of 2022, we would like to share a warm welcome to Peggy Prevoznik Heins! Peggy is the co-founder of Serviam Girls Academy in Wilmington, Delaware; Serviam believes in educating, inspiring, and transforming young women to bring out their full potential.
Tell us how it all started.
In 2005, I started, after three children, to work part-time at a local private high school … I shared an office and we had a visitor, and we started talking about urban education. I knew about the NativityMiguel model, which is this…nurturing graduate support program that really helped children… [without] access to resources and opportunities, to provide them that so that they could then pursue their dreams. My co-founder and I committed to going to visit one of those schools and we walked out of there and I said, “Meg, we’re starting a school for girls”. And sure enough, we just slowly accumulated a small steering committee of amazing people. Some of us were dreamers and visionaries and hard workers, but slowly as I say, these little angels popped up who… ha[d] already started a school or…knew how to incorporate a nonprofit or… my favorite, someone who said, “Well, I don’t know much about development, I only work with major donors”. Literally, these angels just appeared. And [so] from January 2006 to the fall of 2008, we raised money, put together a staff, found a site, and these… courageous families who said,” Oh, my gosh, I need something better for my daughters” were willing to take this leap, for a school that didn’t even exist, joined it for fifth and sixth grade. And, we opened our school in 2008.
“…most large institutions cater to those who can assertively access their strengths…”
What was the main problem that you identified in the public schools?
I think that most large institutions cater to those who can assertively access their strengths. Then you have those who have resources and choose to go outside the larger institutions to go to private schools. Well, we all know that, that tuition is enormously expensive, and is really limited to a certain percentage of the population, who has access to resources. [M]y experience in education, and then nonprofit and peace and justice work is that…small attention to the individual and to the relationship, no matter the age, helps all of us advance and reach that inner potential. So, when you’re tucked in a larger institution, it’s easier to get lost or just be another cog in the wheel. And… these NativityMiguel…schools were…building these small communities of private education and the students there were thriving. 98 to 100% were graduating on time in high school, and no state boasts that across the board. Even in Delaware, it’s anywhere between 83 and 86%.
“…small attention to the individual and to the relationship, no matter the age, helps all of us advance and reach that inner potential.”
I would say [that] we looked at it more…[and] here were these environments where young people were thriving… We had one school that had started a few years earlier for boys. How [could] we provide that for girls?… [W]e work closely with the boys school. We believe all students should have access. But, research shows that when you educate a girl, you educate generations. So we think it’s absolutely vital that our young women are given similar opportunities to advance themselves, their own dreams, and then provide for their families.
Can you give us an example of one student that you’re proud of?
I would have to say, there isn’t a student I’m not proud of. And, it is amazing the journeys we get to participate in. Part of the gift of this school is we form very strong relationships with our students…and the stories are just incredible. What comes to mind immediately is some that we just were sorting through. We have…one of nine children…[who] in middle school…was raising her siblings…[H]er parents were [there] too, but they work in [multiple] jobs… And so, she would go home and have to feed her younger siblings dinner and support [them]. She was…[the] first of her nine siblings to go to college, and she’s doing phenomenally. We have another student who just has taken advantage of every single opportunity. She’s the first in her family to go on to college. We have another student who…ended up signing up for a coding program, which she was studying… in college… [She] rose to the top. Graduated at the top of her class, and has an exceptional job… [There’s also] a junior in high school who was so committed to wanting to change the world and to get the young person’s voice in the mix of policy and community growth…[S]he went through with a cohort of 100 students around the world and they addressed issues around environmental education and sustainability. I can go on, and on, and on, and on. These are just the ones that are on the top of my head because I was just reviewing them for our newsletter.
“…sometimes that outside person provides credibility.”
Do you think mentorship plays a huge role in kids’ lives?
I do. But, I also want to say part of our model is we work very closely with the family. We call it “the trifecta”, the school, the families, and the student. So we do work together, but all of us need that outside person. You know, our moms… [and] dads can tell us 100 things, and then somebody else says it, and it’s like, “Oh, yeah. Why didn’t I think of that?” As a mom, I’m kinda like “uhhhhr”. But I do think sometimes that outside person provides credibility. And, it’s only because it reaffirms what we’re hearing from our folks, anyway … [But] the second thing we do is expand their network. If you think about how most of us got jobs or learned about opportunities it’s because somebody introduced us to that. And when you build that network, and often mentors expand our networks, then that expands our students and our alums network. So, I think there are so many ways that we help.
Learn more about Peggy’s mission at serviamgirlsacademy.org or connect with her on social media:
- Facebook: www.facebook.com/ServiamDE
- Instagram: www.instagram.com/serviamde
- LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/peggy-prevoznik-heins-967014a5
When you’re not working, what do you do for fun?
I love to be outside… I love to walk and hike, and I’m going to say play tennis, although I have to say that quite humbly because I’m not good. I just love to be outside. I have wonderful friends and I have a very large family. So, between my three children and my seven siblings, and my mother, etc., I’m dizzy there. I love to cook and I absolutely love to bake bread. That’s my new hobby.
If you could share some advice with either your younger self or maybe a friend, what would it be?
If I look back, two of the things that I think are really important to remember are probably [the] most valuable asset of your relationships. Invest in them. For the love, the support, growth, to learn who you are. Then I would say just trust life and live it. Go out and take risks, and live boldly. Go Big. Go make what you want to have happen. Just keep going for it. And be honest, I really think honesty is important. It’s a journey, right? So I feel like I don’t have to tell my 12-year-old self, I can still tell myself that now. But yeah, I think relationships, honesty, and just live boldly. Today’s a gift. So treasure it.
Nominated by Lois Hoffman
“Peggy Heins is an awesome person who is President and co-founder of Serviam Girls Academy in Wilmington.”
Why Peggy Prevoznik Heins is On this List
“Picking Peggy was a nobrainer. She has the most confident, kind, and sophisticated air about her that makes people want to rise to the occasion. At the same time, she possesses humility and genuinely cares about her students and their outcomes. She is the utmost example of what humans should be to one another and that gives me hope for shaping a more kind, tolerant world. Thank you Peggy!“
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