Eleventh grade U.S. History teacher Lesley Quinteros not only grew up in Watts, but has spent her teaching career at Green Dot Public Schools helping her students deepen their relationships with the community. Because of this, last month Quinteros was surprised with an award from Assemblymember Mike Gipson in honor of her commitment to her community and her students.
Earlier this spring, a representative from Assemblymember Gipson’s office reached out to Ánimo Watts Charter High School Principal Abraham DeVilliers to nominate a teacher who lived in the community, worked at the school, and had a strong impact on students. In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, Gipson wanted to award a teacher who was closely involved with their community, and DeVilliers knew Quinteros was the right honoree.
Growing Up in Watts
Quinteros grew up in Watts and attended her neighborhood high school, Alain Leroy Locke Senior High School. Locke was created in direct response to the Los Angeles riots to provide children in South Los Angeles a safe and secure place of learning. Yet 40 years after it opened, the environment at Locke was no longer as safe or secure as intended. Quinteros recalls riots and lockdowns in her senior year at Locke, where she graduated in the spring of 2008, while it was still under the operation of the Los Angeles Unified School District.
“Things were so bad, the SWAT team was called in,” said Quinteros. Just a few months later, Green Dot assumed operation of the campus. Quinteros returned to the campus a year after graduating to cheer on her friends at their graduation. “When I came back for graduation, it was really different. There was far less tension.”
After graduating from Locke, Quinteros attended Cal State Long Beach and graduated with a liberal arts degree in history, with a concentration in U.S. and World History. She started teaching Spanish at Ánimo Watts, just a couple blocks away from Locke as a substitute teacher, and knew she wanted to apply to Ánimo Watts as a full-time social studies teacher. When a position opened up, she was eager. She now teaches U.S. History, SAT prep, and college prep to juniors. “I love being a teacher here,” said Quinteros.
“I felt like my teacher preparation program didn’t really prepare me to be a teacher, but since I started working at Ánimo Watts, I was able to get a lot more professional development than my program was giving me. It’s really made me an effective educator.”
Committed to a Changed Community
“I see such a big difference in the community since Green Dot started operating schools here.” Quinteros’ family still lives near Locke, and her brother graduated there last year. “I feel safer walking down the streets, and I tell my students that I think it’s safer because education is being emphasized in the community — I’ve seen its impact”
The award she received from Assemblymember Gipson made Quinteros feel like her work at Ánimo Watts has been validated. “I tell my students I really want this community to keep changing. I want to see that everyone here gets an education and becomes an engaged community member. I want them to be change agents.”
Quinteros has organized field trips and activities for students to become more culturally aware and civically engaged. She takes students to see plays and museums, and brings them to voter registration events hosted by United Parents and Students (UPAS). In addition, she brought seven students and five parents to LA Stands for Immigrants, an event organized by parents and students to engage California Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon and local authorities on the rights of immigrants in a time of uncertainty.
A Perfectly Timed Reminder
In the classroom, it’s easy to get more focused on the myriad of daily needs than a teacher’s big picture impact, but the Assemblymember’s award was a timely encouragement. “The award came at the right time,” said Quinteros. “With everything that’s going on in the world and in our country, I’d been feeling like history will repeat itself. As minorities, we historically get the worst end of the deal, so I’ve been trying to push my students to be more aware and think critically about reading the news. At one point I felt like I wasn’t doing enough to represent my people, but this award was a helpful nudge to remind me that I am doing enough.” Quinteros viewed the award as the necessary motivation to finish the year strong.
Thanks to teachers like Quinteros, Green Dot’s students across our network are being inspired to work hard to be engaged leaders in their communities.