By Markus Williams
Where shall I fly and where shall I be?
Someone planted a tree.
A tree they may never see.
If there was going to be an eighth wonder of the world, it could be argued that the teacher would be it. With one hand touching humanity and the other touching hope, teachers stand in the place where home and society ceased to exist. This evening we meet two teachers; Two teachers who have used their own lives as inspiration to teach and change, for the better, the lives of their students.
Jennifer Bado-Aleman was born as a result of the American Dream. Although that dream originated in two different countries it was realized in Jennifer and she would one day take that dream into the classroom and eventually as a celebrated guest at the White House.
She was born into a close family that believed in working together. Her grandmother immigrated from El Salvador and her father from Puerto Rico. She lived with her parents and at times she would also live with her grandmother and other relatives. Her family was a community and they all worked toward with one goal, educating the children. Her family was not rich but they believed in the importance of education, and religious values. Education was the goal and Jennifer would fulfill it in every way. She was taught as a child that “you can do anything if you work hard”, nothing was beyond your reach. Although her parents came to this country with nothing they worked hard to put her through catholic school and the entire extended family would help to make it happen.
English was their second language. Her parents regularly took her to the library as they encouraged reading and the expansion of the mind. She enjoyed reading and writing but she discovered she enjoyed even more the act of helping others to read and write. This would be the catalyst that would propel her into a life of service.
Jennifer’s family created a warm and loving environment and as a result Jennifer always felt loved and supported. She excelled in school and always pushed herself to achieve according to her ability. It would be middle school that would open her eyes to the different treatment for different students. Her Catholic school that was diverse had become a little too diverse and it introduced her to new vocabulary… white flight. Not only did it take away students but it took away resources and good teachers. She recalls advancing academically but there was no class available or a teacher to teach it. She wondered if she would be prepared for college. By the 9th grade she saw honors classes as a clear dividing line with the black and brown students encouraged to pursue the non-college preparatory curriculum.
Jennifer was determined to fly; it was the only option her family had given her since she could remember. She continued to outperform the expectations society puts on certain ethnic groups by graduating high school and being the first in her family to go to college. She entered The University of Maryland at College Park with a focus on English and Education. Like many who choose to major in education Jennifer was encouraged to study something more prestigious that would allow her to make more money. But she was determined to enter a life of service. She graduated from The University of Maryland with both undergraduate and graduate degrees and she already knew the student population she wanted to work with. She began her teaching career at Gaithersburg High School; she was honored with the task of building a special program for the students with English as a second language. She took the best of her experience growing up and she decided this was the way to help her students with similar backgrounds. She became an expert on Hispanic and minority student achievement, access and equity in educational opportunities and college access. Her success as a dedicated and caring teacher has been recognized by her students and her country. In 2007, after being nominated by one of her students she was honored as the Hispanic Heritage Youth Awards Teacher of the Year for the Washington D.C. regional area. In 2011 she earned national board certifications in English, the same year her first child was born. In 2012 she was nationally selected to be a Washington Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education and she has been an invited guest at the White House on behalf of education, with the distinct privilege of introducing the First Lady at a recent screening of the film The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete. Jennifer Bado-Aleman is a classroom teacher who is passionate about her conviction that all students can achieve if given the opportunity. The whole of our society can only be, because of the individual pieces.
We celebrate Jennifer Bado-Aleman and all teachers who chose to teach. In a time when it is popular to reduce the success of a student simply to a test score many teachers welcome the whole child into their classroom, choosing to see the human and not a number. For so many of us we are everything we are because we were loved by a teacher.