In eighth grade, Spanish major Jessica Garcia watched a documentary film that would change the course of her career.
Since she could remember, she wanted to be a teacher: “I was always the little kid forcing my friends to play school so I could be the teacher.”
But when she saw the film “Waiting for Superman,” she was shaken by the state of public education.
“It was shocking to realize not every student is getting a great education, which is one of the pillars of U.S. democracy. It’s supposed to be the land where if you work hard, you’re going to succeed. That documentary highlights that is not the case.”
Seeing education from a different perspective
Jessica was not giving up on education, though. Instead, she made it her mission to approach teaching from a different perspective. She is majoring in Spanish and sociology, with a minor in diversity studies, rather than education.
“I chose to study language because I didn’t want that to be a barrier for my students. I want to be able to speak to them, or their parents, or anyone in their lives that they need to have their educational experience communicated to.”
Admittedly, learning Spanish was difficult for her, she said, but with encouragement from friends, family and the faculty in modern and classical languages, she pushed through.
“I’m really glad I did because it taught me that failure doesn’t define who you are. Not only has Spanish given me the tactical skills of learning the language and learning how to communicate with other people, it’s also taught me a lot about myself.”
Understanding systemic poverty
At about 12 years old, Jessica and her mom started volunteering at a women’s homeless shelter. Her outreach efforts continued throughout college, and her heart grew bigger for those in our society who have the greatest needs.
That drove Jessica to learn more about the systemic causes of social issues.
“My friend was majoring in sociology. He told me about the classes he was taking in juvenile delinquency, social inequality and social problems in the community. It just sounded exactly like what I was passionate about.”
She said her sociology classes have given her insights into the challenges facing low-income children and families and the resources available to help them.
“I feel like my knowledge of the entire picture of poverty, and not just education, is so much bigger because of the nontraditional route I took.”
Looking to the future ahead
As she approaches graduation on May 13, Jessica is looking to the future, and to a job waiting for her in New York.
Jessica will be teaching 7th grade reading at Democracy Prep Endurance Middle School, an open-enrollment, public charter school in Harlem.
“Democracy Prep is really passionate about taking in students who actually were likely to underperform in traditional public schools. They have really high graduation rates and high achievement rates.”
Jessica found Democracy Prep through Teach for America, a national organization that places “recent college graduates who commit two years to teach and to effect change in under-resourced urban and rural public schools,” according to its website.
She is eager to get started this summer.
“If we could provide everyone with a quality education, I feel like the level of achievement within the communities that are traditionally underachieving would be astronomical.”