After runways in Paris and Milan, the cover of GQ, and international stardom, this fashion icon found his passion in education.
When you’ve walked the fashion runways in Paris and Milan, appeared on the cover of GQ and achieved international stardom as the first African American male in a Polo Ralph Lauren ad campaign, is there anything glamorous left to do?
Yes, and that is to step into a classroom of Scarsdale High School each morning, according to Rashid Silvera, who lists both “international model” and “high-school social-studies teacher” on his impressive resume.
“Teaching is what’s glamorous to me,” says the 69-year-old Silvera, who is in his 34th year at Scarsdale High. Formerly married to Alva Chinn, a supermodel from the 1970s and 1980s, he notes that while he has raised children in his personal life, “My students have been the primary beneficiaries of my ‘parenting.’”
A graduate of Bennington College, with two advanced degrees from Harvard—an MTS from the Divinity School and an EdM from the Graduate School of Education—Silvera teaches three social-studies electives: psychology, public policy, and race and ethnicity. The son of a Sephardic Jewish father and a Quaker Jamaican mother, he points out that one of his key teaching tenets is that race is a human construct. “Race is a perception that people turn into a reality,” he says. “People constantly feel the need to classify others.”
Parents praise Silvera as someone who exemplifies great values, especially for his decision to leave the jet-setting life of a full-time fashion star and choose teaching as his primary career (although he is still a client with Click Model Management). They add that he works magic in the classroom, making sure that each student feels heard and appreciated. This, they say, is quite a feat, as adolescence is typically a time when children can feel unheard or invisible.
“Rashid is a unique educator,” says Avital Soldatenko, a Scarsdale parent whose daughter was one of Silvera’s students last semester. “He is a mentor, an unofficial college guru, an internship-placement advisor, and one of the greatest fans of and believers in his students that they will ever have outside of their own families.”
While many teachers acknowledge student birthdays in modest ways, Silvera is a big believer in classroom birthday parties as a way of celebrating his students. He organized an extraordinary going-away party last year, complete with treats and presents, for a student who was relocating to Europe with her family, to make sure she’d know how much she’d be missed.
Silvera notes that while he enjoys having an impact on his students’ lives, he is most grateful for the impact they have had on his. “I tell them, ‘When you leave my classroom, your story will be my story,’” he says. “I say, ‘In every story I tell, I will be talking about you.’”