Joliet, Ill. – Taking on the challenge of inspiring the next generation of students is a responsibility that teachers proudly accept. For Jasmine Flores, Isabel Jaquez and Crystal Mendoza, who are the three newest MERIT (Multicultural Education Recruitment in Teaching) Scholarship recipients at the University of St. Francis (USF), that challenge is one they are ready to assume.

The MERIT program is a partnership between USF, Joliet Township High School District 204, Joliet Public Schools District 86 and the Joliet business community. The MERIT Scholarship provides scholarship funds for qualifying students of color who major in education at USF. Recipients are required to teach in a Joliet school for either four years (Joliet Township High School District 204 and other area seniors planning to attend USF for four years) or two years (Joliet Junior College students planning to transfer to USF for two years). Ultimately, the program is intended to help recruit, prepare, place and induct a new generation of teachers of color for Joliet’s schools.

As the three recipients prepare to begin their respective educational journeys in the fall, they are thankful for the opportunity presented to them through the MERIT program.

“To be a MERIT Scholar, it means that I am given the opportunity to learn and grow into the teacher I want to be. It means that I am learning about the community I will be working in and connecting with students to prepare myself as an educator. As a MERIT Scholar, I am being trained to be a leader and an influence not only to the children, but to everyone who surrounds me,” said Flores, who graduated from Joliet Central in 2018 and then recently graduated from Joliet Junior College.

“To me, being a MERIT Scholar means that I am going to get the opportunity to be the best possible teacher I can be for my students. I also get to be for someone else, what I never got as a little girl, a teacher who looks like me. While all of my teachers were amazing, none of them looked like me nor had a similar background as me or had the same passion that I do for my culture. Being a MERIT Scholar means that I am going to be a teacher in a community where there are many children of color, and I get to be their teacher. My students will walk into my classroom and see someone who is like them, someone who can show them they can be any they want to be regardless of where they came from or what color their skin is,” said Jaquez, who is a graduate of Bolingbrook High School.

For Mendoza, a graduate of Joliet West High School, the opportunity is an example of a dream coming true.

“To be a MERIT Scholar means the world to me because it will help me turn my dream into a reality. Further, it will allow me to share my experience with a diverse group of students,” she said.

While there are many opportunities that come with a career in education, the three newest MERIT Scholars are driven by the impact they aspire to have on their future students.

“I am looking forward to being a teacher because I want to be the one who gets to inspire the next generation to believe in themselves and what they can achieve. No matter who they are or where they come from, I will always want to bring the best out of my students, even if it starts with a smile,” said Flores.

Jaquez believes that building relationships with students is an important characteristic of an effective classroom.

“I look forward most to building relationships with my students and watching them grow as students and as people. Building relationships is so important to a classroom setting. Students learn better when they trust and know their teacher. Even though I have not met my students and many of them probably don’t even exist yet, I love them, and I look forward to getting to know each and every one of them,” she said.

Mendoza also points to the importance of the relationship between teacher and student.

“I look forward to getting to know the students and working with them to reach our goals. I not only want to share my knowledge, but I also want to cultivate relationships and make great memories together,” she said.

Specifically, all three MERIT Scholarship recipients look forward to the opportunity to teach in Joliet schools.

“As a student that lived in the Joliet area for most of my life, I grew to love the diverse atmosphere and the acceptance that was given in the school system. Even though I was surrounded with positive energy, there was still a divide between teachers and with the students; there were not enough minority teachers to balance with the minority populations of the schools,” said Flores, who would like to teach middle school social sciences. “Since I grew up in the Joliet public school systems, I had friends of different cultural and economic backgrounds and was able to understand and connect with those different from me. As a teacher, I want to be able the build relationships with my students through the understanding of the cultural norms and using them to create a unique curriculum that will inspire students, rather than bore students. I want to pursue education because I want to be the missing voice in faculty discussions to stand up for minorities and to give an insider perspective on what will benefit the majority.”

“It is not a secret that many kids in this world do not have someone at home who cheers them on, who tells them they are deeply loved and valued. I want to be a teacher because every child deserves to know they are loved and that they are worthy, every child deserves someone in their corner. My mission as a teacher is to be a confidant and a cheerleader for any student that needs one. I know that I can have a positive effect on the future by teaching every single student I have that they are treasured and valued,” said Jaquez, who would like to teach in elementary school.

“When one thinks about the gifts and talents they have to offer, why not use them to make a difference in the lives of young students. In my case, I would like to share the talents that I have to offer with students and my community. Ever since elementary school, I knew that I wanted to be a teacher. My dedication, interest, and passion for the field of education are some of the gifts that I have to offer, and I want to share them,” said Mendoza, who would like to become a high school U.S. history teacher.

Visit stfrancis.edu/merit for more information on the MERIT Program at USF.

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The University of St. Francis, in Joliet, Ill., serves close to 4,000 students nationwide and offers undergraduate, graduate, doctoral and certificate programs in the arts and sciences, business, education, nursing and social work. There are over 52,000 USF alumni across the globe. For information, call 800-735-7500 or visit stfrancis.edu.

University of St. Francis: Bigger thinking. Brighter purpose.

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