Teachers Talk Back: LA Teacher Jennifer Lopez
Jennifer Lopez is an E4E-LA member, a former teacher, and is a middle school dean of students and family outreach coordinator in Arleta.
Tell me about your experience as a public school student and how it shaped your approach to teaching.
I attended the lowest performing public schools in Sacramento Unified School District; my elementary school was actually in the bottom 5 percent in the state for academic achievement. After middle school, I was a granted a full-tuition paid scholarship to attend Sacramento Country Day School. Although always a high performing student, I realized within my first week of my new school how underprepared I was compared to my peers. Many students like myself go on to college and feel as overwhelmed as I did in high school. My first-hand experiences in education inspire me to always set high expectations for my students.
What kind of expectations did you have for yourself and your students as a teacher?
When I first started teaching I told my principal that 100% of my students would pass the California High School Exit exam. I was told this was an unreasonable goal. That year, 99% of my students passed their Exit exam. My second year of teaching, a new student transferred in mid-year with a brain tumor; we worked hard to try to keep him on track. I visited him at his house and hospital and dropped off math exercises for him to work on. That year 99% of my students passed their Exit exam. My third year of teaching, 100% of my students passed the Exit Exam. We owe it to our students, and ourselves, to be relentless in the pursuit of achievement.
Tell me about your work at Valor--how are you building school culture and dealing with discipline?
I work alongside like-minded individuals who believe that all students – regardless of where they are born and raised in – can and will succeed. All our students model Valor’s PREP values: Preparedness, Respect, Engagement and Professionalism. We have equipped our students and families with the skills and knowledge necessary to excel in demanding high schools and colleges. I helped establish a Parents Committee that helps run school fundraisers, traffic control, special events and helping with monthly parent meetings. We also had more than 200 community members come out to a Valor neighborhood clean-up this year.
How do you empower students to make choices about their own education?
I created a high school options manual as well as binder where our students include their resume, brag sheet, mock interview questions, rubrics, reflections, A-G requirements, sample request for letter of recommendations, personal statement, charter school applications, high school research, and other relevant materials. Our students get started early with having to write personal statement, learning how to do research based on their academics and personal interests, preparing for interviews and completing mock college applications.
What about parents? How do you empower families through the college process?
It is very important that parents feel empowered with options. We have a high school options manual, which includes information about the different school choices for their children. This year, I offered multiple parent workshops to explain the process of applying different types of schools and scholarships. We strongly encourage our families to continue discussing the college process and to come to us with any questions.