A Different Route to Success: First, Community College; Then a Four-Year University

As a young Latina in middle school witnessing my parents’ financial struggle, I knew I wanted to attend a four-year university right after high school graduation. Ever since migrating from Mexico 25 years ago, my father has worked in the agriculture fields and my mom at Wendy’s. Although my parents struggled to provide food and pay bills, they never failed to give love and support. Therefore, I wanted to repay them by going straight to a four-year university and having a better future.

In high school, I decided to become a well-rounded student so I could get into a four-year university. I was involved in various student organizations and activities, such as tennis, Interact Club, Advancement Via Individual Determination, and a Christian -based club. I even held leadership positions in high school, such as associated student vice president and Art Club president. I not only took my extracurricular activities seriously, but also my academics. I was enrolled in an honors program, took Advanced Placement courses, and was a dual-enrollment student at Taft College, which was close to my California home. When my junior year came, I took the ACT and SAT countless times, but I was not able to improve my scores since I was not a good test taker. Although that was a barrier for me, I still had faith that I would get accepted into a four-year university of my choice.

As a senior, I was accepted into two colleges out of 14 where I applied. I was devastated because I was attached to this expectation that I was going to attend a four-year university outside of my community. I decided to attend Taft College because I was familiar with the faculty and the success it had with transferring students to four-year colleges. Although I was disappointed, there was a particular scholarship that restored my faith: the Holmes Family Education and Training Foundation scholarship.

In the weeks following my decision to attend Taft, I met up with my Holmes Family scholarship mentor named Cindy Patterson. I explained to her everything that had happened, and she gave me this piece of advice: “God made you stay in your community for a reason. He will not tell you why right now, but once you have graduated from Taft College. Have faith.” Of course, I was at a point where I was questioning life, so it was difficult for me to understand what she was trying to tell me. Therefore, during my first year I just wanted to leave college because I had worked so hard in high school and was frustrated that I was not able to fulfill my dream of going to a four-year university of my choice.

As a Taft College freshman, my mentality was “go big or go home.” I was determined to make it to the college of my choice. So I decided that the University of Southern California would be my goal. I became occupied with planning how I would get there, and how my life would be attending USC. As a result, I applied as an incoming sophomore, not knowing that USC would still be looking at my ACT and SAT scores. Unfortunately, I was not offered admission. Once again, I was left with questioning my purpose and direction. Coming into my sophomore year, I reevaluated my mindset. Looking back at the advice my mentor gave me, I decided to give my burdens to God and say, “If I was meant to stay to keep on helping my community, let it be, and I’ll continue with my education locally.” I began appreciating life and my community. Once the time came to apply again as a transfer student, I applied to 14 schools. At the end of my sophomore year, I was accepted to my top choices: USC, UCLA, Pepperdine University, California State University, San Luis Obispo, and UC- Irvine.

I chose to transfer to the University of Southern California. When I got there, I decided to keep the mindset I had developed in community college. I studied public policy with an emphasis on nonprofits and social innovation. I chose this major because it would allow me to learn more about how to help under-resourced communities become successful. At USC, I am part of Students for Education Reform (president), Kappa Delta Chi Sorority, and Hermanas Unidas. Today, I am not only a senior, but I am also studying for a master’s of public administration degree at USC through their Progressive Degree Program. It allows me to begin graduate school work at the same time I am finishing requirements for my bachelor’s degree.

I have learned that a community college can give folks experiences and prepare them for different options. The transfer process was similar to what I went through in high school when I applied to colleges. The four-year colleges expect you to do very well academically and outside of the classroom. The only difference is that after completing a certain number of units, the colleges no longer look at your SAT/ACT scores. Even though I took my academics seriously, I took helping my community just as seriously. At my community college, I created a program called College is Out There, which helps seventh- through 12th-graders from Lost Hills, California, on college readiness. I also worked for groups like Wonderful Education and Youth 2 Leaders Education Foundation, and I was active in migrant education issues. Looking back, I believe I was meant to stay at my community college so I could learn about how to help small communities. I applied that knowledge later at USC when I begin helping larger cities with their higher education.

Ultimately, I helped the students of Kern County, California, set their goals as high as they possibly could, and if life did not go their way, then to build the tenacity to keep fighting on like I did. This approach helped me become the executive intern for the co-founder of the Ednovate charter schools in Los Angeles, and a summer intern for the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics in Washington, D.C. I have also become a prime example of what you are able to achieve, no matter how many times life knocks you down; as long as you have the hunger to succeed, you will do anything to keep going.

At the end of the day, I have to thank my parents, who decided to come to the United States from Mexico so our family could have a better future. From my triumphs to my disappointments, my parents have always received me with open arms. They remind me every day that if God is for us, who can be against us? Therefore, I keep fighting on.

Roxanna Barboza is a senior at the University of Southern California. She was a 2017 Summer Intern with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

Reflections on a Future in Education

As I reflect on my experience as a White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (WHIEEH) intern, I cannot help but think about all the people in my life — in particular my mother — who have  supported me in all the decisions I have made to this point in my young career. Not in my wildest dreams could I have pictured myself in this position.

Without a doubt, the past few months have been a unique time to be in the country’s capital. Through the countless interactions I have had with staff, I have noticed an underlying theme of optimism and compassion for public education. I have learned a lot in this short period of time, and the exposure to many new people and ideas has reinvigorated my desire to teach. Today, approximately a quarter of K–12 public school students in the United States are Hispanic, yet only 8 percent of the teacher workforce is Hispanic, and only 2 percent are Latino males. There is a need for more teachers of color. At the Initiative, strides have been made to highlight the experiences of Latino educators in our K–12 public schools through the #LatinosTeach campaign. Reading through their stories and journeys was very motivating for me.

I realized early on in my college career that education was a subject I felt strongly about. I also knew through my experiences that, unfortunately for many Latino students seeking to go to college, the quality of education they receive in their neighborhoods could prevent them from attending. Through my support system and the preparation I received, I successfully passed my credentialing exams for multiple-subject, Spanish dual-immersion. This school year is my first as a teacher through Teach for America at Bayview Elementary School in San Pablo, California, just a few blocks away from my home. Every year until high school, I recall waking up my siblings on summer mornings to grab free breakfast at Bayview. Francis, the lunch lady, had known us over the years and would always stuff our backpacks with extra lunches to take home. This simple gesture would cultivate my sense of community, and the idea of giving back.

To further my passion for drawing more Latino males into teaching, I plan to attend graduate school in education leadership. Professor Arnetha Ball at Stanford University describes the notion of the “knowing-doing gap” in education research as the difficulty the researchers face in efficiently applying findings to practice. Researchers have found that students of color accumulate more academic benefits from same-race teachers, or when teachers represent and are sensitive to all racial backgrounds. With this in mind, I want be a research activist in education policy and take the necessary steps to apply research to policy, with hopes that I can draw more Latino males into teaching positions.

During my time at the Initiative, I visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and I came across a simple yet powerful quote: “Teach the children the truth.” I reflected on the history that I was taught about my Mexican culture and could not recall anything, only the bits my mother and college professors had recounted. I want my own children to develop a richer understanding of their culture; I believe it is crucial for our children to know their roots and be able to navigate this world with a developed cultural identity. I intend to do that as a cultural worker and change agent in my community and many others like it.

Enrique Cornejo is a graduate of the University of California, Irvine and an elementary school teacher. He was a a Spring 2017 intern with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

A Master’s Degree in Business Administration: Support for a Budding Entrepreneur

The first person to tell me it was worthwhile for an entrepreneur to get a master’s degree in business administration was the founder of a $50 million education company. I don’t remember why he said it was worth it; I just remember that he said it was. I had no idea just how important that statement would be to me five years later, as I have graduated from my MBA program at The George Washington University (GW) School of Business, and have launched my own company, Pocket Palette, a single-use, full-face makeup kit for the woman on the go.

I always knew entrepreneurship was a long-term goal of mine, but I had different plans for my first job out of graduate school. When I started my MBA program at GW, I intended to become a brand manager. I joined the marketing club, signed up for a marketing consulting project with the Ferrero Group, and landed an internship for an insurance company in its marketing department. I was ready to become a marketing professional. And that was only in my first semester.

I switched gears in January of my second semester when I “pitched” my product to classmates for the first time. This idea started in the bathroom at the business school, when I overheard women getting ready for interviews talking about how much they hated having to carry their makeup to school. I asked them if they would use a makeup kit that they could throw away after they were done. They thought my idea was awesome and they encouraged me to patent and pursue it.

And my entrepreneurship journey began. During my MBA program, I participated in workshops, competitions, and networking events. Through these experiences, I learned how to negotiate, balance an income statement, and write a business plan. I learned about international trade, managerial finance, and operations.

Yes, these are all things I could have learned online for free, but by participating in an MBA on-site program, I did it alongside military officers, teachers, financial analysts, founders, engineers, and others. I learned that classmates in my MBA program were the biggest source of education I could have asked for. They challenged and encouraged me to pursue my business, and with all of their support, I entered GW’s New Venture Competition and placed fourth out of 116 teams. I won $7,500 in cash, and over $15,000 in in-kind prizes, all of which are dedicated to launching Pocket Palette.

I am only a few months out of school, and as of right now, I am thankful I made the decision to get my MBA. If I had to do it over again, knowing now that I would go into business for myself, I am 100 percent sure that I would still do it.

Lynda Peralta received her Master of Business Administration from The George Washington University in 2017 and was a Spring 2017 intern with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics

Returning the Favor: Why I Chose Higher Education

I believe it is important to improve student experiences and the campus climate in institutions of higher education — particularly for Hispanic students — and have made this a personal goal. I plan to accomplish this goal by entering a career in student affairs in higher education.

I became interested in this career during my junior year of college when I conducted a study titled, “Examining the Readiness of a Selective Campus as It Transitions to Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) Status.” In the study, I examined administrators’ perceptions of readiness for a selective university’s transition to becoming a HSI.

I interviewed eight administrators, who described their role at the university and their efforts to create inclusivity, safe spaces, and support for all students. Through my research, I focused on looking at the number of schools that receive HSI funding, and where they allocate their funds. Some common uses of the funds are to create more scholarships for students, increase faculty diversity training, and develop STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) programs geared towards mentoring Hispanic students. In addition, since many Hispanic students are first-generation students, there is a huge focus on creating programs to help increase student retention among this population. During my research, I saw how administrators turned their passions into careers, which helped me decide to pursue a degree in student affairs.

As a first generation Chicana/Latina, my parents migrated from Mexico before I was born to ensure that I would have more opportunities than I would have had in our small town in Mexico. But when I entered college, I did not know how to navigate the system on my own. Thankfully, through endless support from different organizations, staff and faculty mentors, and peers on campus, I had a successful college experience. I thrived in my studies and joined various campus organizations. I became extensively involved with the student government, the Student Parent Orientation Program, the Cross-Cultural Center, Greek life, and different internship programs.

During my sophomore year, I joined a research lab led by Jeanett Castellanos, a well-known faculty member and mentor at the University of California, Irvine. Here, I joined not only a research lab, but an academic family of students, mostly first generation college students, interested in one day pursuing a graduate degree and making a difference in their community. Through Castellanos and my peers’ endless support and motivation, I am now in graduate school. This fall, I will start my master’s program in higher education, with a concentration in diversity and social justice, at the University of Michigan. My long-term goal is to receive a doctorate in education and become the director of a multicultural center or student life program at a university.

From my experience, I recognized that although many students are attending college to receive an education, some of them are not being supported to the same extent as other students, due to differences in resources made available to them. It may be harder for some students, especially first-generation students, to navigate the system on their own when they do not have the adequate resources to be successful.

My experiences inspired me work to enhance campus experiences, increase student involvement, and ensure that universities provide resources to support all students. I’m pursuing a career in student affairs so I can easily be involved with students and be aware of the different issues surrounding the universities and their campus climates. I would like to return the favor that I was given, and help first-generations students navigate through their college experience and help them achieve academic and professional success.

Carolina Dominguez-Burciaga graduated from the University of California, Irvine in 2017 and was a Spring 2017 intern with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics

Breaking the Community College Stereotype

I grew up in a working-class family. Both my mother and father work full-time jobs and have instilled the importance of higher education in me and my sister. After much thought and discussion with my family and college counselors, I came to the conclusion that I could still reach my educational goals at a community college. Not everyone can afford the tuition at a four-year university, and I believe that money should not hold students back from furthering their education.

Additionally, community college students should not feel belittled or looked down upon because they did not transition to a four-year institution directly from high school. I often felt underestimated or undervalued because of my choice to attend a community college, but nonetheless, I persevered and am proud to be a part of the 10 percent transfer rate at my community college who go on to complete a degree from a four-year university. My goal is to break the negative stereotypes that people associate with community colleges.

Southwestern College in Chula Vista is one of 113 community colleges in California. It is the only institute of higher education located in the southern portion of San Diego County, and 70 percent of the college is comprised of Hispanic students. Situated just 10 miles away from the San Ysidro Port of Entry, many students cross the Tijuana border daily to receive an education here in the United States. The college is filled with bilingual students, many of whom are first- generation college students. Because of the bicultural environment, Southwestern College is special. It is not uncommon to have peers who wake up at 5 a.m., walk across the international border from Mexico, catch the 6:30 a.m. trolley, and then hop onto the next bus that takes them directly to Southwestern College, just so they can make their 8 a.m. class on time. This is the routine of many students, and it is because of these students, who show incredible dedication and a passion for learning, that I feel motivated to put the same amount of effort into my own education.

With this mindset, I became actively involved in Southwestern College. Southwestern College’s newspaper, The Sun, is a national, award-winning paper and has been recognized as the top college newspaper in the nation. I decided to join the newspaper staff so I could learn more about writing, interviewing, and acting as a voice within my community. I served as the assistant editor for the sports section while also working in the online, broadcast, and social media sections. I was nominated for, and won, the Student of Distinction Award, a selective award given to only 10 students at the college each year who demonstrate leadership on campus. I obtained a 3.8 GPA and was a student athlete for two years, as a starter on the women’s soccer team. I interviewed governing board members, attended newspaper competitions, won awards for my articles and video-packages, but most importantly, I transferred to a university.

After three amazing, memorable years at the community college, I graduated with honors from Southwestern and was admitted to San Diego State University. Next year, I will be graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in public relations and a minor in political science. I had an easy transition to San Diego State, because I felt prepared after having three years of college under my belt from Southwestern. It also feels great knowing I will be leaving college debt-free, having taken out no loans. I used community college as my launching pad. I took advantage of the resources on campus, joined the nationally-awarded newspaper staff, received academic awards, and fully prepared myself both mentally and professionally for San Diego State. If you stay focused and believe that you can transfer to a four-year university, you will.

Community colleges are a great option for students with financial setbacks and for those who simply may not be ready for such a big transition to a four-year university directly from high school. Save money, learn as much as you can, make connections, challenge yourself, and help raise community college transfer rates. Si se puede [Yes you can]!

Stefanie Tellez is a college senior at San Diego State University and was a 2016-2017 Virtual Intern with the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics

 

Ensuring Education for All Children

This was crossposted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom

For most children, school is their home away from home. There they form friendships, socialize, grow, and learn.  Children and their families rely on teachers, principals, and other school staff to nurture and protect them when away from home.  And families and educators have a shared responsibility to work together and ensure that schools are safe environments for all, including our youngest and most vulnerable children.  We can best meet this responsibility when we have a clear understanding of policies and resources that can support the creation of safe learning environments, and ultimately, children’s development and learning.

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) regularly releases resources to help educators, school administrators, and families to protect and ensure equitable access to education for all children, including our most vulnerable student populations.  For example, in the past few years, ED has released several documents that address the needs of immigrant children.  One example is the Newcomer Toolkit ED released in September that provided a one-stop shop for educators who serve newcomer students.  The toolkit both catalogued resources for meeting the unique socio-emotional and academic needs of these students and highlighted the assets that newcomer students bring to the classroom.

In a continuing effort to inform the community of stakeholders who care for our children and to respond to continuing demand from the field, today ED is releasing a new resource guide for early learning educators and families as a follow-up to a 2015 Resource Guide focused on secondary students.

  • The resource guide includes two parts:
    • The first half of the resource guide, entitled Resource Guide: Building a Bright Future for All, provides tips for educators in early learning programs and elementary schools as well as schools, districts, and States to (1) facilitate school enrollment by immigrant families; (2) promote healthy child development in the school setting; (3) encourage caregiver engagement in children’s education; and (4) build staff capacity and knowledge about immigrant students and their educational needs.
    • The second half of the guide entitled Handbook for Parents, Guardians, & Families: Building a Bright Future for All provides tips for parents and guardians on how to promote and facilitate children’s education from birth and play an active role in helping to ensure their children’s success in school regardless of their own schooling history or context.

Additionally, to respond to questions from the field, ED is also sharing information today about two Department of Homeland Security (DHS) policies that may be of interest to educators, school leaders, and families:

  • A “sensitive locations” factsheet for educators and families provides a user-friendly explanation of how DHS policy defines immigration enforcement activity around “sensitive locations,” including schools and school bus stops, as well as other community spaces and social activities.
  • In addition, ED is highlighting for teachers that under DHS policy, young people who are in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody should have timely access to educational materials sent by a local education agency, school, school administrator, or individual teacher. Additionally, consistent with applicable rules, these young people should have the opportunity to complete school work and return it to the local education agency, school, school administrator, or individual teacher. This policy can be found on the DHS website Part 2.5 – Funds and Personal Property and questions can be directed to Info@ice.dhs.gov.

Whether at home or at school, as parents or as educators, the foremost issue in our minds is the well-being of our children. By being informed and working together, we can ensure that all children have the educational access they need and deserve to be safe, secure, and happy.

Dana Nerenberg is a Principal Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education and Principal of Sitton Elementary School in Portland, and Frances Frost serves as the Family Ambassador, U.S. Department of Education. Find her on Twitter @FamiliesatED.

Honoring Emily Grijalva

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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

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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

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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.