Throughout the year, we’ll be profiling Heroes in the Classroom, our nod to the teachers doing tremendously hard work, day in and day out. They don’t get enough praise for the heart and soul they put into their kids’ success, so we hope to use this series as a platform to show our gratitude for all they’re doing to make a difference in the lives of their students.
Betsaida Reyes’s colleagues at MESA Charter High School in Bushwick cannot say enough wonderful things about her and her exceptional teaching style – and in just a short time, she has had a great impact on her students and their families. It is clear that she is passionate about her profession, and her passion is paying off for her students in big ways.
“Though she is only in her second year as a Teach For America Corps Member, she routinely goes well above and beyond to serve MESA students, particularly English Language Learners and students with disabilities,” said MESA Executive Director Arthur Samuels.
Betsaida was born and raised in Bushwick, giving her a strong and unique connection to the families she serves. Fellow educators at MESA say she builds extremely strong relationships with the families and regularly phones parents at home, giving her the nickname "Mama Reyes". She fosters a sense of urgency around her students’ education and involves the families in their success – and academic success is what her children are achieving.
“Betsaida co-led MESA's first-ever Academic Decathlon team, which competed against several higher-income schools in Brockport, New York this year. MESA kids held their own, and brought back several awards,” Samuels said.
“But beyond that, the work that Betsaida and her colleagues in the Social Studies department have done has translated into academic success and high test scores. MESA's students, including students with disabilities and English Language Learners, outperformed our district and New York City as a whole on the Global Studies Regents exam. Seventy-three percent of all our students passed the Regents, which was a higher percentage than all public schools in New York State. This is despite our school having a higher percentage of high-need students compared to the state averages.”
Betsaida not only helped her students pass their courses, but she helped them “blow the doors off” in terms of their scores, Samuels said.
“This is an extraordinary feat for any teacher, especially a first year teacher.”
So what is it about Betsaida specifically that helps her children learn?
For one, fellow educators say she cares deeply about the community and uses both Spanish and English for instruction, which helps her Spanish-speaking students tremendously. They say she truly cares about each and every student and “meets them where they are”.
We spoke to Betsaida about this and asked her why she went into this profession – one it seems she was made for.
“Teaching has been a passion of mine since elementary school when I came across several educators who had a strong impact over my life,” she said. “I eventually went into teaching to empower my community, and children who share my identity and cultural background. There is power behind having role models who can identify with your on a cultural or ethnic level.”
She continued, “There is so much intelligence and beauty within the minds of children all around urban inner-city communities who wish to access the American Dream. There is no other job that I would want to do at this time; every challenge that I come across ignites my fire everyday more to continue empowering children of color and communities such as the ones that I grew up in.”
MESA Director of Student Achievement Zalykha María Mokim says Betsaida’s work ethic is unmatched.
“She works long hours to make sure that students receive what they need. She communicates to them and their families the high expectations we have here. Betsaida is masterful at helping students own their education by understanding exactly what they know and what they are still working to learn.”
Although she is a relatively new teacher, Betsaida has already had some very proud moments. We asked her about her proudest.
“In the two years that I have been teaching, my proudest moment has to be the moment when I shared Global Regents scores with two my two ELL students who had been struggling the most. That moment of tears, joy and pure excitement illuminates this work for me. This is an exam where ELLs tend to struggle the most because of the higher literacy skills required to be able to pass the exam. For my students - who began with the refusal to write anything or participate in class - to now being able to score above 70 on this exam, brings joy to me. This work is extremely personal and it touches my heart every single day.”
It is clear that MESA and the Bushwick community are profoundly lucky to have Betsaida as an educator. We salute the work she is doing each and every day and are inspired by her dedication. Here’s to many more years teaching children, Ms. Reyes!
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