Honoring Emily Grijalva


Emily Grijalva

High School English Teacher

Los Angeles, CA

Emily Grijalva roots her pedagogy in social justice and love. The youngest daughter of Central American immigrants, she has been an English teacher for 9 years. Currently, she teaches at Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez High School in Boyle Heights. She holds a B.A. in Sociology with an Education Studies Minor and a M.A. in Education with a Teaching Credential from UCLA. She also has a M.S. in School Counseling because she realized that her students needed social-emotional support as well as literacy skills. Emily received the United Way’s Inspirational Teacher award in 2014 and is a UCLA Writing Project Fellow. Along with teaching, she is a Restorative Justice Lead teacher, Students Run LA marathon leader, and works to engage parents and community members in supporting students’ education.

Why do you teach? I came to teaching when I realized how little I knew of my cultural heritage. Throughout my K-12 education, I did not read a single Latino/a author. I had studied very view historical events that included Latino/as. It was almost as if we did not exist. When I had the opportunity to attend college and I took my first Sociology course, I was finally able to learn about Latin American history. I quickly enrolled in Ethnic Literature and Latin American poetry courses. I remember getting goose bumps when I read my first bilingual literary piece. To see myself, my language, my cultural heritage woven into words being taught in an academic institution was awakening and affirming. I realized right then that it was unjust that I had to wait to college to learn about my heritage and decided to become an educator who would strive to make her curriculum culturally-relevant, inspiring and reflective of my school community.

What do you love about teaching? I am fortunate to witness my students discovering their voices and realizing that they are important contributors to society. I love that as an English teacher, I can incorporate art, music, theatre, and personal experiences along with the written word, and thus find multiple ways to engage youth and have them express themselves. Also, seeing students dream and work hard to make their dreams come true is a blessing.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you? My 6th grade teacher, Mr. Haberstock went beyond the classroom to make sure I didn’t fall behind. As a child, I struggled with Math- and in that particular year, I became ill and would need to miss many days of school. Mr. Haberstock made it a point to come to my house afterschool and tutor me. I was able to keep up with the work and advance to the next math level. Now, I strive to be like him and always be mindful of my students’ realities and find ways to overcome obstacles that may keep them from learning.

Welcome Chief of Staff Michelle Moreno

IMG_3250The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (Initiative) welcomes Michelle Moreno to serve as Chief of Staff.

In this role, she works on driving the Initiative’s mission of increasing the Hispanic community’s educational attainment and outcomes through the development of key partnerships,  implementation of operations and capacity-building. Michelle most recently served in a predominantly Latino local school district in San Antonio, Texas working to ensure access to and expand the school district’s Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) initiatives. Through her leadership, she helped further opportunities for students to engage in STEM project-based learning experiences, robotics programs, and gain 21st century skills in order to foster a generation of “Engineers of Change.”

Prior to her work in San Antonio, Michelle was a Program Officer for the Migrant Education Program at the United States Department of Education in Washington, D.C. Her commitment to education opportunities and academic success was strengthened by the work done across the country to provide equitable and quality educational programs to migrant farmworker families. Also, Michelle proudly served in the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs to improve health care services and benefits for our nation’s veterans.

Michelle is the first member of her family to graduate from college. She earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biomedical Science from Texas A&M University and a Master of Arts Degree in Public Administration from American University.

Michelle can be reached via email at Michelle.Moreno@ed.gov.


#LatinosTeach, Honoring Cirilo Ojeda


Cirilo Ojeda

High School Math Teacher

Pasadena, TX

Cirilo Moreno Ojeda, Jr. is the oldest boy of 9 siblings. He has a Bachelor of Science in Information Systems Technology from the University of Houston and a Master of Education in Instruction Leadership from Lamar University. This is his eleventh year as a classroom teacher and football coach where he serves as the offensive coordinator. Ojeda’s roles have included teaching 7th Grade Math, Algebra I, Math Models, Independent Studies Math, and now his role is focused on closing the achievement gap as the Math Department Intervention Teacher at Pasadena High School.

He commits his time to the whole school with various roles over the years as the sponsor for the Senior Class, Young Knights’ Leadership Academy, and the Eagle Elite Fitness Club. His leadership roles have included being the Algebra I Team Leader, Rice University School Mathematics Project, Expectation Graduation, and the campus Eagle Vision Team member.

Ojeda’s current time is spent working with at-risk students throughout the campus and helping them get on track and stay on track to graduate high school. It is very challenging at times, but well worth the effort. Ojeda has been nationally honored by Omega Delta Phi Fraternity, Inc. as a Knight of the Round Table. He has raised over $10,000 for various groups that he works with on campus. He volunteers his time to the East End Eagles Youth Football organization and has worked with local area youth with the Houston Texans Youth Football Camp and camps hosted by Arian Foster and Brian Cushing.

Why do you teach?

I teach because I am the oldest boy of 9 siblings. I accepted this role at a very young age and it has always been my job to lead and take care of others. Adversity, my story, and my experiences drive me to make me who I am. I feel it’s a calling that I have answered and take very seriously. There is always something I can give and the best part is when I can learn something from a student that helps me be a better educator. I teach because I always believe that every day there is someone I need to have a conversation with to help them get through their day. I like to build positive relationships and show young people that they can achieve anything. I feel it is important to teach them that their background, heritage, or socioeconomic status are NOT excuses to fail, but tools to help them grow to become stronger and successful individuals.

What do you love about teaching?

What I love about teaching is the daily interactions that I have with students to help them grow as a person. There are many choices students are faced with and being able to help them reflect on what they do and what they could do better is what I love the most. The academic piece is easier to achieve when positive relationships are built, confidence increases and expectations are raised and raised again as the year goes on. I love seeing and hearing from my former students that find success with higher education, careers, and their family.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you?

Deborah Nasir inspired me to be more than I believed myself to be. I was a student athlete and while the term says what it should be, she said I was her oxymoron because I was a football player but also in advanced classes, top 10% in my class, and in the National Honor Society. She never let me produce anything less in her class than the expectation she individually set for me and I am truly grateful for the inspiration to become an educator like her.

Honoring Mayra A. Lara


Mayra A. Lara

High School English Teacher

Maywood, CA

Mayra Lara is a high school English teacher who loves integrating literature to contemporary social issues. Mayra was born in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico and immigrated to the United States with her parents and older sister when she was three months old. She grew up in the Baldwin Village of Los Angeles and fondly remembers the apartment complex where she lived as it was filled with extraordinary people whose daily struggles were often dwarfed by urban sounds. Although the world outside of her complex was chaotic, the life her parents created for her and her siblings was rather calm. This background helps her create meaningful and lasting relationships with students so that they enter her classroom open to learning. Mayra received her B.A. in English Literature from California State University Long Beach where she also obtained her M.A. in Social and Cultural Analysis of Education. As a Teach Plus Policy Fellow, Mayra was featured in The Wall Street Journal and participated in a round table discussion with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. She is currently working on a doctoral degree in Educational Leadership for Social Justice at Loyola Marymount University and is enjoying applying theory to practice. In addition to teaching for nine years, Mayra has served as the English department chair, union representative, Students Run L.A. coach, adviser to several clubs, and was named Bell Teacher of the Year in 2014. Currently, she is working on helping to create safe spaces at her campus for young women to voice their dreams, fears, and aspirations

Why do you teach? I teach because growing up, school was one of my only safe spaces and I want to help create that for other students. I also love learning. I love sitting in classrooms and engaging in meaningful conversations with others and I think that I have learned more through dialoguing with my students over the years than they will ever learn from me.

What do you love about teaching? I love the sound of purposeful noise in my classroom just as much as I love the sound of awkward silence. I think that it’s during these times that the most important thinking and learning are happening. Most of all, though, what I love most about teaching is meeting young people, hearing their stories, and developing lasting student-teacher relationships

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you? Yes! Carlos Valverde was my high school AP Spanish teacher and one of the most inspiring people I have ever met. He always encouraged me to challenge myself academically as well as think about college as a reality even though, at that time, I was an undocumented student. I think more than anything, Dr. Valverde helped me understand the world around me and find my place in it.

Honoring Lessie Paugh Ortiz


Lessie Paugh Ortiz

High School ESOL Reading Teacher

Orlando, FL

From the tender age of six, Lessie Paugh Ortiz knew she wanted to become a teacher. She was quick to use any wall as a chalkboard and her siblings as pupils.  A 27-year veteran educator, she continues instilling her passion for language and reading to her high school students.  Today she proudly works at Freedom High School in Orlando, Florida as an ESOL reading teacher. Prior to assuming this role, Paugh Ortiz was an ESL teacher for 19-years in Puerto Rico.  Her commitment to education led her to support the work of the Project for Acquiring Language Mastery and Advanced Skills where she teaches adult learners twice a week. She also served in the Parent Leadership Council representing the Southwest Community. Lessie holds a Master’s degree in English as a Second Language from the University of Turabo and a Bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Puerto Rico in Mayagüez.

Why do I teach?

I have always known I wanted to be a teacher. I observed many of my teachers and emulated them – my siblings were my guinea pigs! Later on, I got the chance to help an English teacher with her first grade class. She explained what I needed to do. It was fun to see the students learn and practice the words in sentences. That was my “aha” moment that completely confirmed I wanted to be a teacher.

What do I love about teaching?

There are many moments that illustrate what I love about teaching. I love to interact with my students and see them accomplish significant benchmarks. I beam with pride when my students make literary reference to other books or authors. It is seeing the students’ progress long after they leave my class. It is seeing their eyes lit up because they start to believe in themselves.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you?   

I was blessed to have many amazing teachers influence my life. My first grade teacher, Mrs. Bermúdez, was strict and ran a structured class, yet constantly demonstrated her endless patience. My family had just returned to Puerto Rico from the States and I did not speak Spanish at the time. Mrs. Bermúdez helped ease the transition. I learned to read, write and speak Spanish that year! In seventh grade, it was Mrs. Morales who taught English literature and made reading feel like an adventure. In high school, it was Miss Ortiz, my English teacher, who encouraged my reading and suggested that I teach. Many teachers inspired my teaching journey, and I continue to borrow from each of their methods and apply those methods in my classroom.


Honoring Christopher De Leon


Christopher De Leon

Middle School Science Teacher

Hudson, WI

Born in Corpus Christi, Texas, Christopher De Leon is an engineering and technology teacher at Hudson Middle School in Hudson Wisconsin. He has been teaching at Hudson Middle School for 16 years since receiving his Bachelor of Science Degree in Technology Education from the University of Wisconsin-Stout.  He also has a Master’s Degree in education from St. Mary’s University.  Coming from a family that values hard work and dedication, Christopher brought that work ethic with him to his school.  Christopher is member of the school districts “Teaching, Learning and Assessment” Committee, Technology Committee, SMART Goal Team and the Site Based Leadership Team.  He established the school districts summer STEM camp for students in elementary and middle school.  Mr. Deleon is also the mentor for student STEM Competition teams.  On a personal note, Christopher Deleon and his wife recently adopted 3 special needs children from the foster care system bringing their total number of children up to 5. Christopher has earned many accolades as an educator including: Herb Kohl Educational Foundation Fellowship Award, Space Academy for Educators “Right Stuff Award” and NASA Explorer Schools Merit Roll Educators.

Why do you Teach?

I became a teacher in order to help students reach their full potential. My goal is to challenge my students to be better than they feel they are capable of being.   I want all of my students to become lifelong learners that embrace learning as a natural part of who they are.  I expect the very best from my students and I give them the best that I have to offer in order to help them achieve that goal.

What do you love about teaching?

What I love about teaching is seeing the student’s joy when they find success while tackling a challenging lesson. Helping the students feel that they can do something when they feel they can’t do it is amazing!

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you?

When I was growing up, I had many good teachers but I can’t remember a teacher that I would say is “Great”. I do remember a history teacher when I was in middle school that was just about the worst teacher ever.  She made me feel like I was worthless as a student and like I was a waste of time.  I vowed that I would always make it a point to never be like that teacher.  Every morning, I promise myself every day that I will provide the very best education experience for my students that I can.  I quite literally say that to myself every morning.  My students deserve the best and that’s what I vow to give them.

Honoring Matthew Medrano


Matthew Medrano

High School Science Teacher

Los Angeles, CA

Matthew Medrano is currently a science teacher at the Green Design School at the Diego Rivera Learning Complex in South Los Angeles. His passion is the environment, and he shares this passion with his students during his Environmental Science and Advanced Placement Environmental Science classes.  He graduated from California State University Long Beach with a Bachelor’s in Biology and an option in Education.  He received his credential from the Transition to Teaching Program at California State University Dominguez Hills.  Mr. Medrano shares his passion for the environment with his students on a daily basis, working to create solutions for school, community, and worldwide environmental problems.  Additional, Mr. Medrano works with students daily to unlock their passions and create roadmaps into colleges like UCLA, USC, and CSULB.  In 2013 Mr. Medrano became a Nationally Board Certified Teacher, joining an elite group of teachers recognized for their excellence in teaching and learning.  Additionally, in 2014 Mr. Medrano joined UCLA’s Center X Science Project as a Lead Teacher, helping to introduce computer science, computational thinking, and Next Generation Science Standards into classrooms across the Greater Los Angeles area. Mr. Medrano is continuing his education of teaching and learning, working on his M.Ed at California State University Dominguez Hills.

Why do you teach?

I teach because it’s my passion. I know education is power.  I want to empower my students to follow their passions and empower others.

What do you love about teaching?

I love the “A-Ha” moments that I experience in teaching. Whether it is adult learners or student learners, seeing the accomplishment and faces of students when they solve a problem or create their own solution is unparalleled.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you?

I was fortunate to go through school with many inspiring teachers.  However, the teacher that made the biggest impact in my life would have to be my Journalism teacher, Mr. Slagle.  In my four years with him, he allowed me to fail and succeed in a safe environment.  The trust and responsibility he placed in his students allowed them to practice real-world skills in a safe environment.  He is a prime example of living your passion.  His dedication to English Language Arts and Journalism extend beyond the classroom into the Greater Los Angeles Community.

Welcome Deputy Director Jaqueline Cortez-Wang

Jaqueline Cortez Wang Official Photo

The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (Initiative) welcomes Jaqueline Cortez-Wang to serve as Deputy Director.

In this role, Jaqueline will serve as primary advisor to the Executive Director and help ensure that the objectives of the Initiative are fully executed. Jaqueline has served as Hispanic Communications and Outreach Director in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Communications and Outreach since 2011 and has been instrumental in the development and execution of the public affairs, public engagement, and education efforts focused on Hispanic stakeholders. For much of 2015, Jaqueline detailed to the Initiative as a senior advisor, leading the project strategy and development of the Initiative’s 25th anniversary call for Commitments to Action. 

Prior to joining the Department, Jaqueline built her career at NASA Johnson Space Center, starting as a high school cooperative education student. She ended her NASA career 13 years later as a Senior Supervisor for the Human Research Program Education & Outreach office leading the development of youth education programs focused on motivating young students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

A native of Pasadena, Texas, Jaqueline holds an Associate of Arts degree in Business Administration from San Jacinto College-Central, Texas, a dual Bachelor of Business Administration in Management and Marketing, and a Master of Arts in Cross-Cultural Studies from the University of Houston-Clear Lake. She is also a graduate of the National Hispanic Professional Organization’s Leadership Institute.

Jaqueline can be reached via email at jaqueline.cortezwang@ed.gov.




Honoring Veronica Perez


Veronica Perez

Elementary Arts Teacher

Arlington, VA

Veronica Perez is a Prek-5 grade art teacher at Arlington Traditional School. She holds a Bachelor of Secondary Art Education from the Inter American University of Puerto Rico as well as a Master of Arts in Multicultural/Bilingual Education from George Mason University. She also has a Master’s Degree Equivalent in Studio Art from VCU.

During the 2011-2012 she worked in a photography project called “This is My City/ This is My Community,” where children in rural Uganda learned how to use cameras to share their life stories and culture with the community of Arlington. Their artwork was on display at the Arlington Arts Center. This project had a huge impact globally and within Arlington school communities.

Veronica is an Arlington County Public schools facilitator for Courageous Conversations on Racial Equity. The initiative aims at increasing students’ achievements by eliminating race and the acquisition of English as a predictor of success in Arlington Public Schools.

Veronica has the respect and admiration of students, parents, and colleagues. She contributes to the field of education by conducting seminars and workshops and being involved in training and assisting fellow teachers in their professional development. She is a school leader and is very involved with the larger community. She is the Humanities Project Representative for her school. She has used this leadership position to bring diversity to her students by selecting performances to share at school-wide assemblies.

Veronica is also a practicing artist, active in leadership positions in numerous community artists groups including: Del Ray Artisans, The Arlington Artist Alliance, Art Latin American Collective Project (ALACP), and the Latino Art League (TLAL).

In 2015 she was recognized as the Victoria D. de Sanchez Northern Hispanic Teacher of the Year due to her ability to impart knowledge to all of her students and to inspire students from all backgrounds to learn to their full capacity despite any socioeconomic disadvantages. In 2015 she was also recognized as a 40 Under 40 Honoree by Leadership Arlington for been an inspirational teacher and a distinguished young leader in the education field.

Why do you teach?

I am passionate about teaching because I feel that I can make a positive impact in my students’ life. As a Latina teacher, I strive to give a voice to all children. I want to be able to represent the underrepresented. I believe that if each of us care enough for the youth, we will see a difference in our world. If we care enough, we will help create a more fair, happy and peaceful world for our children to live in.  I understand that it is extremely important that each child feel proud of who they are and feel accepted. Accepted not just in the way they look but also in the way they “see” things. I feel very proud of my Latin roots and I want my students to also celebrate who they are. I believe that self- acceptance is important in my students’ personal and professional success and growth.

What do you love about teaching?

I love that every child can be successful in my classroom regardless of their economic background, interests, abilities or ethnicity.  I also like the opportunity to enhance my students’ life through authentic learning with hands-on art projects and I love seeing them succeed. I never get bored when I teach. Every day is filled with many opportunities to learn and fun!

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you? 

I have lots of teachers that inspired me in one way or another, but in 7th grade I had an amazing teacher (Maria Quiros) that stood out from the others. She was organized, responsible, hardworking, and knowledgeable; but the qualities that I admire the most are that she was caring and kind. More than a teacher, she was a friend. She showed me that I could be anything I wanted if I worked hard. She also challenged me and helped me build my confidence and self- esteem. She is the reason I believe that I can accomplish anything in life. I hope that I can become to my students the teacher she was to me.

Local Efforts Supporting Latino Teacher Recruitment

Posted by White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics

On April 20, 2016, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (WHIEEH) hosted the next in its series of Bright Spots in Hispanic Education (Bright Spots) Google+ Hangouts. The Google+ Hangout highlighted the tremendous efforts of Bright Spots focused on Latino teacher recruitment around the country. Ruthanne Buck, Senior Advisor to the Secretary of Education and Maria Pastrana Lujan, Senior Advisor at the WHIEEH, hosted : Academy for Teacher Excellence, TX, Bilingual Education Program at Texas A&M University, TX, Grow your Own Teachers (GYO), IL, Mini-Corps Program at Fresno State, CA, STEM Transformation Institute (STI), FL, T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood, NC, and the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). The Google Hangout was a dynamic and educational discussion featuring promising practices and strategies supporting Latino teacher recruitment.

Teachers can be the most influential figure in a students’ educational journey. As the Latino population continues to grow, it is imperative to have a teaching workforce that reflects the student population and our diverse nation. Currently, one in four public school students are Hispanic, yet only 7.8% of the teaching workforce is Hispanic. Resources and support are critical to maintain top talented Hispanic teachers in education. Bright Spots are helping to combat this disparity through their efforts.

Ruthanne Buck, Senior Advisor to the Secretary of Education, and Maria Pastrana Lujan, Senior Advisor at the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, host Google + Hangout on Latino Teacher Recruitment on April 20, 2016.

Ruthanne Buck, Senior Advisor to the Secretary of Education, and Maria Pastrana Lujan, Senior Advisor at the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, host Google + Hangout on Latino Teacher Recruitment on April 20, 2016.

Throughout the Google hangout, the Bright Spots shared how each has been successful in recruiting and retaining teachers and highlighted best practices. Best practices included: creating partnerships with their local community colleges, creating teacher learning communities, and allowing hands-on student experiences during their freshman year. They also discussed the importance of outreach to bilingual students and non-traditional student teacher candidates and the importance of including family in all aspects of the process.

In fact, studies (Ceja, 2004; Gándara, 1995, 1999; Solorzano, 1986) have shown that families and communities are vital components to the educational and occupational aspirations of students. By having those who are already present in the community as educational leaders, students’ aspirations can be cultivated and realized through interaction in school settings. Increasing the number of Latino teachers will not only benefit Latino students but rather all students by bringing a diverse perspective to the classroom environment. Latino teacher recruitment efforts are effective when we collaborate and build partnerships between school districts and local colleges and universities with larger ethnic minority student populations. These partnerships can increase the number of diverse teachers by providing culturally-responsive, cooperative-learning centered, and culturally-inclusive teaching training opportunities (Bireda & Chait, 2011).

It is also important to remember that in addition to teacher recruitment, we must focus on retention. By increasing the retention of Latino teachers, we also increase the presence of Latinos in other school positions such as school counselor, administrators and other school leaders (Méndez-Morse, Murakami, Byrne-Jiménez, & Hernandez, 2015). The recruitment and retention of Latino teachers becomes the vehicle that mobilizes schools to meet the demands of its diverse student population, which then creates a welcoming and inclusive environment to learn in.

These Bright Spots clearly demonstrate that by providing Latino students with the support and wrap around services they need to be successful teachers, they are helping to ensure that our teaching workforce is as diverse as our nation’s students. A teacher candidate from the Mini-Corps Program at Fresno State said it best, “They provide the support to keep up my academics and to always strive to better myself and to hold myself to a higher standard. […] Next year, I’ll be working as a fourth grade teacher in Mendoza where I grew up.” There can be no greater measure of the positive impact these Bright Spots in Hispanic Education are making.

Fresno State MiniCorps Program


To view the full engagement video here: http://bit.ly/1X8SSiS