Torie Leslie: A Fierce & Friendly Champion for 21st Century Learners in Charlotte

Written by Meg Seitz · Photography by Julia Fay

Torie Leslie is loving, gracious, and kind – and I ain’t messing with her. She’s a fierce and friendly champion for 21st century learners in Charlotte. {continued below}

As Chief Academic Officer for Digi-Bridge, Leslie is a good balance between experienced teacher and modern advocate. The Charlotte-based, non-profit works to ensure that young people ages kindergarten through 8th grade have both valuable and unique opportunities to succeed in the digital age. It’s about flipping the mindset about science, technology, engineering, math (STEM, y’all); and, in turn, changing a young learner’s career – and life – trajectory.

“I just want to give back,” she shares. “I want to be part of the solution.”

With STEM careers on the rise, Digi-Bridge wants to start the technology conversation at a young age. Charter schools see the value; public schools are moving slowly to make it work. Even farther behind in adopting convos about technology and teaching technology are Title I schools. Many struggle to find the time during the school day to even talk technology, let alone teach it or reinforce its importance. That’s the gap.

As much as this is about conversations re: technology, it’s really about providing opportunities for young learners to experience technology. And that’s Digi-Bridge – bridging that gap to create opportunities with courses, clubs, and events.

Leslie serves as the organization’s boots on the ground. Had she stayed a full-time teacher, this would have been her 15th year teaching. She taught in CMS and Asheville City Schools as well as for KIPP Academy Charlotte. She’s also trained and certified to teach business education to middle school and high school students.

If that experience proves anything about Leslie it’s this – she is a trusted and qualified supporter of the vision that there’s so much more possible for the next gen.

Backtracking a bit, Leslie met David Jessup, Jr. – who would go on to found Digi-Bridge – when Charlotte’s Project L.I.F.T. (translation: Project Leadership & Investment For Transformation) launched in 2011.

“I remember where David [Jessup]  and I were when David said, ‘This school thing isn’t working – I’m going to build my own non-profit,’”

“At that point, I had made a career [for myself] that matched Title I schools because those babies look like me,” Leslie notes.

As one of seven facilitators under Project L.I.F.T.’s technology arm, she was able to see the need for technology education and opportunities. And that it wasn’t working as well as it could.

“I remember where David [Jessup]  and I were when David said, ‘This school thing isn’t working – I’m going to build my own non-profit,’” Leslie recalls.

The two pinky-swore to work together again. Jessup founded Digi-Bridge in 2014; Leslie joined Jessup as part of the Educational Leadership team in 2016.

As the 2017-2018 school year comes to a close, Digi-Bridge is revving their engines with summer opportunities.

A Daddy-Daughter Code-In is taking place on Saturday, June 2; 90 minute #SteamSaturdays are happening across nine weekends this summer with instruction in programming and robotics; various instructors across a number of different locations in and around the Charlotte area will be teaching the Digi-Bridge curriculum.

Leslie knows that opportunities like this aren’t just about teaching a new skill – but providing the chance for a young learner to see a different side of themselves.

“I was at a school, and this one little boy – who had his arms wrapped around another boy’s neck – dropped [the horseplay] to tell me he was going to be in our robotics club,” she recalls, with a laugh. “I had reservations about him at first, but he reaffirmed to me – he had completed all his paperwork. When it started, that little boy tried his absolutely hardest to be the best he could be; he struggled, but it was so clear that he wanted his opportunity.”

A product of CMS schools herself, Leslie sees experiences like this as opportunities not only to give back to the community, but also to serve as part of the solution.

What was so cool about that little boy in robotics club?

“It was beautiful to see him get his chance to try something new – and this is the kind of [experience] he’ll always remember,” she recalls. “Those are the reasons why I do this work.”

Meet the Author: Meg Seitz is the Founder and Managing Creative Partner of toth shop, an agency with one goal: Elevate your brand’s content through powerful writing, creativity, and strategy. She also serves as an Adjunct Professor with Queens University and Founding Partner of the children’s book series, “Bea is for Business”.

She’s an English major with an MBA, so she can talk Homer’s “The Odyssey” just as well as she can talk sunk costs – though she’d much prefer the former.

Meet the photographer: Julia Murray, owner of Julia Fay Photography, feels most at home behind a camera with a story to tell on the other side. Her business began during her sophomore year of college, while majoring in radio and tv broadcasting. Now residing in Charlotte NC, she primarily shoots weddings and other local small businesses like her own. Her favorite part about her job is the connection it brings between art and people.