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Jessica Garay

By April 23, 20202019 Winners

My name is Clara Jessica Garay. I was born in Mexico and immigrated to the United States back in November, 1998. Being an immigrant student was very difficult for me, especially because I was only eight years old at the time. Growing up, I never thought about my future because I often felt that I was an outsider. I often felt that I didn’t belong to my school nor to this country. My high school years were tough from the beginning. I started not going to my classes because I felt that I didn’t need to. At the age of 15, I felt discouraged and often thought to myself “Why bother going to class if I won’t be graduating”. At the time, college never crossed my mind.

Reflecting on those experiences, I can now understand that my perception of higher education seemed unreachable because I never had a Hispanic role model during my education. I never saw someone that look like “me”, be a teacher or an administrator. Now, I treasure all of those difficult childhood experiences because that is why I got motivated to become an educator. It also took one teacher to believe in me and tell me that I could do it if I really worked for my goals. She was very compassionate and empathic towards me. Michelle Backman was the teacher that made the difference for me. She once told me that minority students needed teachers to become their role models. That was it! I got inspired by her words and started to work to become a teacher. I didn’t want more students to face the challenges that I went through. If I could at least impact one student by being a role model, I was going to do it.

I started to go to class and I started to work really hard to be able to graduate from high school. Everything was fine until it was time to apply for colleges and scholarships. I remember the day that I became aware that I couldn’t apply for financial aid because I didn’t have a social security number. My world came crashing down on me. I knew that my parents were not able to pay for my tuition. Luckily, things worked out for me. I was accepted to the University of Utah and was able to get a private scholarship that helped me to pay for my first semester of college. I had to attend school in the mornings and work in the nights in order to afford paying for school. During my undergraduate studies, I received the DACA permit and was able to get accepted to the college of education. Six years later in May 2015, I graduated from the University of Utah with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. That same year, thanks to my husband, I became a permanent resident of the United States. Last February, I became a US citizen.

After graduating in 2015, I started to work at Esperanza Elementary. I sincerely love that school. I taught for three years as a kindergarten teacher and my experience was incredible. I have the opportunity to work with mostly Hispanic students and with their families. I loved the fact that our students can embrace their own culture and language and still be able to learn the common core standards. Sharing the same culture as our families allows us to have a special bond. Parents feel that they are able to communicate with us and participate in their child’s education. Working for Esperanza Elementary school has been a good experience and I have learned so much. Since 2016, I became part of the school’s leadership team, the teacher representative for the executive board and currently the vice chair for our community council committee. This school year, I also got promoted to being an instructional coach. Being an instructional coach has helped me gain experience with working with adults. Next year, I have an contract offer to become a vice principal.

I am currently working on obtaining my master’s degree at the University of Utah leadership and policy program with administrative licensure. My aspiration of becoming a school administrator and a future superintendent, is because I know that I will be able to make a bigger impact with our minoritized community. I want to serve as a role model not only for students but also for teachers and parent. I want to become someone who advocates for the necessities of minoritized communities. I want to become a leader that breaks barriers and stereotypes. I want to prove to minoritized students that they also have the capacity to obtain a college degree and be someone in life. I will also work to empower families to voice their opinion so that laws don’t only benefit those who tend to speak up.

Up to this point, I have many life aspirations and goals that I want to reach. My life has been filled with challenges, but I am beginning to see the positive outcomes of all my sacrifices. I know that I will go far, because I won’t stop trying. Thank you for time and I hope you take my application to the ALAS scholarship into consideration. Know that this scholarship will help me tremendously to achieve my goals of empowering Latino students and their families.