In June, we were fortunate to have two incredible interns join us in supporting our work to ensure all students have access to high quality schools and educators. Both of these women are New Jersey educators with unique professional backgrounds, and we have been incredibly lucky have their perspective, voice and enthusiasm this summer.
My name is Mariah Alston! I am a 2020 LEE (Leadership for Educational Equity) Policy & Advocacy Summer Fellow working under the host organization JerseyCAN. I am a Jersey girl through and through! I was technically born in NY but was raised in NJ since day one. I attended private school until 6th grade and, starting in 7th grade, I went through the NJ public school system. After graduating from Allentown High School in Allentown, NJ, I attended The College of New Jersey, where I completed the 5-year BS/MA Urban Early Childhood Education Program. I double majored in Urban Early Childhood Education and Sociology and completed a minor in Women and Gender Studies.
During my studies, I completed practicums in classrooms in South Brunswick, Trenton, and Ewing, NJ and eventually did my student teaching in a 4th grade classroom in Trenton, NJ. In 2013, I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Urban Early Childhood Education and a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology. In 2014, I graduated with a Master of Arts in Teaching and completed NJ teaching certifications in the areas of PreK-3, K-6, and ESL PreK-12. I went on to teach 2nd Grade STEM, 5th Grade ELA & 3rd Grade Math (which transitioned to 3rd grade general ed mid-year) in a charter school in Newark, NJ. After my first year of teaching in Newark, I joined Teach for America and continued to teach at the same school as a corps member. I then taught in a 2nd grade Title I classroom in a charter school in Asbury Park, NJ for one year before returning to graduate school. In 2018, I began my studies at Teachers College, Columbia University and, in 2020, received my Master of Arts in Education Policy with a specialization in Law & Education.
As an AfroLatina woman who attended predominantly white schools and institutions for all of my educational career, I have always understood the importance of representation in the educator workforce, in curricula, and more. As an AfroLatina woman who taught predominately Black and brown students, I further understood the impact I was able to have when my students could relate to and identify with me. The lens from which I approach this work in and out of the classroom focuses on race and class issues and how they are addressed or not addressed in policy decisions. I have interest in ways to go beyond cultural responsiveness and bring anti-racism work into teacher preparation, curriculum creation, and school culture for the benefit of all children. Additionally, I have a passion for the transformation and betterment of education in Black and brown and low-income communities and emphasize voices of the communities affected by a policy in the creation of said policy.
My name is Emely Diaz-Guevara, and I am an intern at JerseyCAN through the Leadership for Educational Equity Summer Policy and Advocacy Fellowship. I was born in the Dominican Republic and moved to Vineland, New Jersey with my family at seven years old. I attended Vineland Public Schools where I was supported by educators that helped me navigate a new language and country. I attended Monmouth University in West Long Branch, New Jersey where I was fortunate to be part of the Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF). EOF provided me with the tools, knowledge, and community to navigate what would be a drastically different environment. At Monmouth, I followed the dual major pathway and received degrees in Political Science and History.
Despite not being an education major, I always aspired to be a teacher. I was inspired by the countless educators that supported my goals as well as what the things I wished to see changed. After graduating, I decided to join Teach for America and became a 2018 corps member. During my two year commitment, I taught high school social studies, civics and US history specifically. Working in one of the most unique school systems in the country was a transformational experience. As beautiful and inspirational as the city of New Orleans is, the long history of inequity in the classroom and beyond is even more striking. I spent my first year of teaching largely focused on my classroom and how I could be better for my kids instructionally. Yet, the feeling that I could use my skills to do more in the classroom persisted in my mind.
In my second year of teaching I became involved with Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE) which provided the push that I needed to step into education policy. In the spring of 2020, I participated in the Greater New Orleans Public Policy Fellowship that introduced me to fundamental concepts in public policy and best practices. Since then, I have been working to expand my experience and knowledge of education policy; this search is what led me to JerseyCAN. I feel very fortunate to be able to learn about the intricacies of policy in my home state of New Jersey. Thinking ahead, my hope is to continue my education in public policy to better serve the diverse needs in our education system through equity building practices. As a woman, an immigrant, and an Afro-Latina, I know all too well how it feels to have aspects of my identity ignored. Ultimately, my goal is to influence and create policy that supports all students in all of their diverse needs and identities.
Later this summer, you will hear from both of these impressive women on their perspectives on advocacy and their summer projects. You can follow Mariah on her LinkedIN and Emely on her LinkedIn.