KM DiColandrea, 37, Jewish educator, debate coach and role model

KM DiColandrea, an educator at Congregation Beth Elohim in Park Slope, was selected as one of the New York Jewish Week’s 36 to Watch (formerly 36 Under 36). This distinction honors leaders, entrepreneurs and changemakers who are making a difference in New York’s Jewish community. At CBE, “DiC0” served as the 7th grade lead educator for Yachad, the K-12 Jewish and Hebrew education program, and took on the role of assistant director of Yachad in the fall of 2020. In a viral story in Humans of New York, a former student described how DiCo — the student’s middle school debate coach — came out as transgender while teaching at the boy’s school, and how DiCo’s example and guidance changed his life. DiColandrea lives in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn.

For the full list of this year’s “36ers,” click here.

New York Jewish Week: Tell us a little bit about your work.

DiColandrea: I’m a history teacher at my alma mater, Stuyvesant High School, and have established and coached nationally ranked speech and debate teams. My latest project, the Brooklyn Debate League, was the subject of a story in the blog Humans of New York that recently went viral. The league has become the resounding answer to the endemic inequality in the speech and debate world and raised over $1.3 million in the wake of recent media attention. I have been recognized with several awards for my work as an educator, including the Robert M. Sherman Young Pioneers Award from the Jewish Education Project, the New York Daily News Hometown Hero Award, the Teach for America Alumni Award for Excellence in Teaching and Yale College’s David Everett Chantler Award for Courage, Character, and High Moral Purpose.

How does your Jewish identity or experience influence your work?

I converted to Judaism when I was 30, but I still remember how my third-grade teacher in Catholic school encouraged us to pray whenever we entered a car or subway. I still say a little prayer whenever I leave the house, but after I converted I changed the name to whom I’m addressing the prayer. The Torah commands us, “Justice, justice, shall you pursue,” and to me, teaching is justice work.

What is your favorite place to eat Jewish food in New York?

Miriam’s in Park Slope.

What’s a fun or surprising fact about you?

I played rugby in college even though I’m 5’3” and am terrible at sports.

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