I was once told that teaching comes from the heart. These words stuck with me in my
darkest and most transformational moments in the classroom. In fact, they gave me strength
and shaped my vision as an educator. Even now, as an Academic Coordinator at Access Youth
Academy, I continue to manifest these words with my students.
I am now finishing up my first year at Access and I’m reflecting on my experience,
struggles, and successes. I entered Access with an immense passion for addressing the
educational inequities in poor communities of color. I was given the freedom to envision a
classroom and transform a space into a conducive place for learning. I envisioned a safe space
where my students would be able to express themselves and develop holistically. Despite our
limited time with the students, I weaved in social emotional wellness through classroom
meetings. The meetings were at the beginning of each programming day and they set the tone
for their study time. The questions ranged from personal interests to deeper questions like “what
do you want to be known for?” Students practiced listening to each other and getting to know
their peers on a deeper level. The youth realized that each of them faced similar struggles and
many carried the hopes and dreams of their families. Acknowledging the different facets of their
identities created a space of acceptance. In class, we discussed how a high GPA was
important; however, it was not worth much if we lacked the personal conviction to improve our
communities and the world. There are still some students who are not prepared to share a part
of themselves, but once they do, I hope they begin to heal and flourish in all aspects of their
lives. It brings me comfort that our team will be there to support them. The student’s holistic
development is essential to a student’s academic success.
In addition to classroom meetings, I wanted the students to find their purpose in school.
From the start, I shared the educational pipeline and gaps in our flawed system for students of
color. The students were shocked at the numbers, 8 out of 100 Latina/o students graduate for a
4-year university.The grim statistics served as humbling motivators to widen the pipeline and
increase the number of low-income students of color in higher education. Throughout the year,
we discussed our purpose in school and the sacrifices that our parents made to have us there.
My students were aware that their parents worked long hours, low-paying jobs, with no job
security or health benefits. Hearing each other’s stories connected our group in a meaningful
way. The students and their struggles were validated in an educational context. Experiences
were connected to a broader context of immigration, the school-to- prison pipeline, and
educational policy. This to me was transformational because it strayed away from the traditional
sense of “teaching.” The youth’s stories mattered and served as a springboard to discuss
macro-level issues. In other words, the classroom became a place where the heart mattered.
Teaching middle and high school students was a daunting task. I was unsure how they
would respond to my teaching style; however, I was sure of one thing: sooner or later they
would see that I cared about them. As an educator, a shift in mindset was critical. During difficult
times this year, I reminded myself to stop relying on deficit models and refrain from placing
blame on students, parents, or the community. Instead, I had to take responsibility for my
actions and assess how to improve my practice. As educators, we must take accountability,
reflect and adjust our practices. Only by being honest with ourselves and being willing to say
“sorry” to students when we make mistakes, we can be transformational with our students.
Essentially, practicing love as the foundation of teaching and fostering the social-emotional
wellness of our youth will lead to positive change. I look forward to another year of growth and
challenged with the students. Lastly, the practice of teaching from the heart will continue to
guide my interactions with the future leaders at Access Youth Academy.
By: Soraya Ramos; The Academic Coordinator of Access Youth Academy