Jimmy Bui melds his photography experience with passion for teaching to develop something new and different at Vibrant Minds Charter School in Anaheim.
Jimmy Bui has always been passionate about teaching. In fact, he calls it his true calling in life.
In 2010, he was named Teacher of the Year by his peers while working at Gauer Elementary School in Anaheim. But it was a tough time for teachers without tenure, as the economic housing crisis meant major budget cuts and the elimination of countless teaching jobs, including Bui’s.
At the time, Bui was newly married and in the process of buying his and his wife’s first home. He needed to pay the bills, so he turned to a completely new venture: wedding photography. He’d always been told he had an eye for the lens and was extremely successful over the next 10 years, winning over six awards for his creative, fine-art-inspired photography, including No. 1 Wedding Photographer in the US and No. 3 Wedding Photographer in the World from One Eyeland, among other awards.
But his unquenchable passion for teaching never disappeared. He started an after-school program at Gauer, teaching students photography, filmography and videography skills. They made thought-provoking pieces on issues like youth homelessness and even won recognition at the Cannes Lions Film Festival in France.
It was rewarding, but a venture he couldn’t financially sustain on his own, he recalls, and he still longed to be back in a traditional teaching role, working regularly with students.
He opened up on his Facebook page three years ago with a simple post: “I’m ready to get back into teaching.”
Several of Bui’s colleagues reached out, offering him positions, one of them being Debra Schroeder, former principal at Gauer. Now, Schroeder is the founding/executive director of Vibrant Minds Charter School in Anaheim, which she launched in 2015 after semi-retiring from her own education career and desiring to build a school around strength-based education.
Schroeder believes all students should be seen for their true potential, not just for their behaviors and actions within a classroom setting. Something she says Bui has been doing since the beginning of his teaching career.
“At Gauer, Jimmy was so impactful in terms of how he connected with our scholars there. He elevated the others and created a really positive environment. He really made that little elementary school strong,” she says.
Today, Bui is back to doing what he loves most and is a project-based learning (or PBL) teacher who works with Vibrant Minds scholars and teachers to forward the school’s mission of flipping traditional methods on their heads, including taking what are seemingly poorly-behaved kids and turning them into students who love learning and feel empowered to chase their dreams. Bui also provides professional development for its teachers, helping them tap into their own natural strengths and talents.
“He genuinely loves to do what he’s doing,” says Schroeder. “He had a very successful photography business and was so skillful at it, but instead he’s here passing it on to our scholars.”
On top of a photography, videography and filmography after-school program, Bui teaches a digital citizenship class and a class called Skills for Real Life once a week, which teaches boys how to connect with the world around them.
Under his tutelage, Vibrant Minds scholars are learning what it takes to have confidence in who they are and what they can bring to a project. Scholars have also created some pretty amazing artwork, not typically seen until high school.
“When you can challenge a kid and when it clicks — when they say, ‘I can do this.’ That’s my joy. Seeing that spark that lights up in their eyes … that’s why we’re doing this,” Bui says.
By Danielle Encinas