Why This Founding Green Dot Student Came Back to South LA

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Daisy Estevez, a social studies teacher at Ánimo Mae Jemison Charter Middle School (AMJ), became a teacher in hopes of changing the lives and trajectories of students. Estevez was inspired by her teachers at Ánimo Ralph Bunche Charter High School (ARB) who helped change her life when she was a founding student in 2006. “My school did so much for me, so I knew I wanted to come back and do the same for students in communities like mine,” reflected Estevez.

A New Beginning

In 2006, ARB opened in the urban residential and industrial area of South Los Angeles. For students and their families, this new school was an opportunity to receive a high quality public education and develop the tools necessary to make college a reality. “Middle school was tough for me and when I culminated I didn’t have a high school to attend because many of the neighboring schools had bad reputations,” recalled Estevez.

In the school’s early years, educators and staff built the foundation for a strong college going culture at ARB. “Our teachers exposed us to college on day one, they told us this was the goal and showed us how we could get there. While I always knew I wanted to go to college, I didn't know how until I attended ARB,” said Estevez. Her experience at ARB prepared her for the rigors of college and equipped her with the tools to navigate the college system. Despite her positive experience at ARB, Estevez admits at times she felt the growing pains of attending a new school. “At first I felt like I was missing out on the big school experience like the typical high school football games and cheerleaders, but I knew the education I was receiving was worth it.”

Road to College

After graduating from ARB in 2010 Estevez attended California State University, Fullerton where she discovered a love for history. “I was taking a history class and my professor made history come alive for me in a way that I had never really experienced before and I instantly fell in love with it,” said Estevez. Her passion for history grew when she was exposed to the Chicano and Chicana Studies Department.

While college provided Estevez with opportunities to expand her knowledge and abilities she was met with some challenges. “I was prepared in the academic sense, but I wasn’t prepared for the cultural shock.” Often times first generation students experience culture shock which can manifest in a multitude of ways, many students disengage, underperform, and some even dropout. At the time, Estevez had the support of her ARB teachers and counselor and eventually she would establish connections on campus. “Though my first year was tough, I had great roommates that were from different places and that helped me gain a new perspective because I had always lived in South Los Angeles and I really didn’t know anything else,” said Estevez. She joined Zeta Tau Alpha sorority and became a freshman mentor to ensure that incoming college freshmen wouldn’t feel the way she had in her first year. Working with these underclassmen and witnessing their growth at the end of their first semester unlocked something within Estevez. “I really enjoyed it and it made me think ‘Maybe this is something I could do when I get out of college.’”

Learning from these and other experiences of our alumni, Green Dot created the Alumni Champions program, a cohort of Green Dot teachers and counselors who provide recent grads with support as they navigate their college campuses and the rigors of their first year. To ensure our alumni have the supports to succeed in their first year of college we also created the University Mentor Program, that trains Green Dot alumni and provides them with a small scholarship for their work in helping students adapt and thrive during the vital first year in a college environment. These additional supports have helped our alumni successfully transition into college and stay on course.

Ready to Serve

After completing her credentialing program she began teaching social studies and ethnic studies at AMJ. Teaching ethnic studies has been especially rewarding for Estevez who struggled with her own identity in college. She recalls being the only latina in many of her classes and initially feeling alone and disconnected from the school community. “At the very least I want my students to leave my class with a sense of pride in their culture,” reflected Estevez. In this course she explores topics such as the power of culture, the different struggles various ethnic groups have experienced, and issues like colorism. Guiding students through these topics and creating a safe environment to have open and meaningful dialogue increases awareness of the multicultural contributions to modern life in America and helps broaden the understanding of one’s identity. “We all come from such beautiful people and I hope my students leave my classroom proud to be a part of that and proud of where they come from.”

As Estevez enters her third year she is grateful for the experiences she’s shared with students and the support she has received from her peers. “In my first year of teaching there were a lot of ups and downs. I questioned myself like ‘Am I really good at this?” reflected Estevez. “My credentialing program prepared me for working with students if every day went according to plan. But I was working at a middle school in South Los Angeles where our students are coming in with a variety of experiences and the strategies that were taught to me didn’t always work.” At Green Dot, we are familiar with the complexities and challenges new teachers face, which is why we offer robust supports. We want to ensure that our first year teachers are equipped with the skills necessary to accelerate growth and feel successful in the classroom, while maintaining the passion with which they entered education.

Prior to entering the classroom, new teachers participate in a series of professional development and onboarding, and each of our first year teachers are assigned a coach to work with them on refining curriculum and actualizing their instructional aspirations. Throughout her first year, Estevez participated in additional professional development opportunities that align to their coaching and classroom goals, because we know that in order for our students to keep growing, our teachers must grow as well. “My first year I was revising what I needed to do to succeed in this specific school and relearning how I could be a good teacher for these specific students,” recalled Estevez. “Though It was a crazy year it was really positive, and I was fortunate enough to have a really good support system.”

Estevez is grateful for her Green Dot education and thankful that she has the opportunity to change the lives of students. “I believe in Green Dot’s mission of providing a high quality education to all students-- I’m a product of it,” reflected Estevez. “I’m glad to be working for an organization where the work I’m doing is valuable, and all of our efforts contribute to the bigger picture of preparing all students for college, leadership, and life.”

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