M.A.T. Student's Effort to Open Higher Education to All Expands
Above, students from Central Junior High School tour campus with Jessica Fay, second from right on the front row, and Lorenzo Reyes, far left, their Spanish teacher. Reyes was Fay's mentor teacher during her internship.
Below, students listen to Clara Foote talk about the college admission process.
She may speak their language but Jessica Fay knew in some ways her life was very different from that of her students. One of the biggest differences was their unfamiliarity with higher education, and she set out to change that.
With a bachelor's degree in Spanish and Latin American studies from the University of Arkansas, Fay was doing her student teaching in the Springdale School District while she earned her Master of Arts in Teaching from the College of Education and Health Professions. She taught several levels of Spanish, plus Spanish for Spanish speakers and English to students learning English as a second language.
"I saw the same trend among my Hispanic students," Fay said. "They wanted to go to college but didn't know how to go about it. They didn't know how to finance it, their parents were reluctant for them to go and sometimes their friends and peers discouraged them."
As the child of two college professors, Fay always took it for granted that she would go to college.
"So I planned an excursion to bring 80 students from Springdale to campus," she said. "It was an amazing day. The tour of campus was impressive to the kids. While we were walking around, they would pick which buildings they wanted to study in."
Fay did three rotations in the Springdale district, teaching at Hellstern Middle School, Central Junior High School and Har-Ber High School. She brought students from ninth through 12th grades to the university campus.
Staff of the Multicultural Center at the university helped Fay brainstorm about activities and tours for the students and made logistical arrangements. Clara Foote, who is responsible for Hispanic outreach and recruitment in northwest Arkansas, talked with Fay's students about what they need to do in high school in order to be ready for college.
Representatives of the scholarship office and Career Development Center also talked with the students. The career center representative explained that being bilingual can help an applicant's prospects in the job market, Fay said.
"The students liked hearing about how much money they could make if they speak Spanish," she said. "I think the trip spurred a lot of attention about what needs to be done to get these kids to the University of Arkansas."
An effort later this year of much larger scope proves that.
During Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15, Fay is helping organize a larger group visit to the campus. This time, students from the four largest school districts in Benton and Washington counties will tour the university. A Multicultural Center committee led by Veronikha Salazar is spearheading activities during heritage month. The Education Renewal Zone based in the College of Education and Health Professions is helping with funding. Several businesses have also made donations.
"This year, we will be able to provide transportation, refreshments and T-shirts for the students," Fay said. "It became a larger event with more community involvement."
Fay was recognized many times during her career at the university. She arrived at the university as a Silas Hunt Distinguished Scholar and Alumni Association Legacy Scholar, and she participated in the Four-Year Honors Scholars Program in the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences.
Before graduation, she went on to be named the Outstanding Master of Arts in Teaching student in the College of Education and Health Professions and to earn the 2008 Senior Honor Citation from the Arkansas Alumni Association. She finished her bachelor's degree in three years and was on the chancellor's and dean's list every semester. She won the university's Student Award for Leadership and Student Involvement and Leadership Award.
Fay held several offices, including president, in the university's chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens, and she served in the Associated Student Government and in leadership positions of Kappa Delta sorority.
During her M.A.T. year, Fay made a presentation at the Arkansas Foreign Language Teachers Association spring conference in Hot Springs with two other students in the foreign language education program, Megan Murry and Lauren Marston.
"We promoted the M.A.T. program," Fay said. "There was a revision last year of Arkansas teaching standards for foreign languages so we talked about those and conducted activities for the teachers to use in the classes."
This fall, Fay began teaching at Rogers High School. She teaches regular Spanish and Spanish for native speakers. This is the first year Arkansas has established standards for teaching Spanish to Spanish speakers, she said.
In addition to teaching, Fay co-sponsors the International Club and she is the team coach for dance and cheerleading, in which she herself excelled during high school. She is also coordinating Hispanic advocacy events in the school district.
Fay, whose mother is Colombian, has traveled to a dozen countries, both studying and teaching.
"At home when I was growing up, my mother didn't speak Spanish," Fay said. "I never experienced the bewilderment of trying to do something that's very hard and you don't know the language being used. I want to help kids discover that it's possible for them to go to college.
"If more people don't step up to show them they can succeed, they won't. It's to the betterment of northwest Arkansas that these students go to college. As a teacher, I want to help them be whatever they want to be."
Contact:Heidi Stambuck, director of communications
College of Education and Health Professions
(479) 575-3138, firstname.lastname@example.org