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Sharing Interest in History, Politics through Richmond Teacher Residency Program

A typical work day for Jessica Diaz, ’17, starts out with her arriving to Albert Hill Middle School in the City of Richmond at 7:30 a.m. She likes to make sure all her teaching materials are ready before she heads to the gym to greet arriving students “with a big smile.” From there, she teaches U.S. history to 6th and 7th graders for six class periods.

“I have always been drawn to urban teaching because I believe that, regardless of a student’s background, everyone deserves an excellent education which provides opportunities for success,” she said.

A former Service-Learning Teaching Assistant, Diaz double-majored in history and political science at VCU and is now completing her master’s degree in teaching at VCU. She is part of the Richmond Teacher Residency Program, a highly selective urban graduate teacher residency program that equips individuals to make an immediate impact on classrooms in Richmond Public Schools. The organization cultivates a pipeline of extraordinary teachers who take seriously the job of leveling the playing field and closing the achievement gap for Richmond students.

Jessica Diaz and Gov. McAuliffeAs an undergraduate student, Diaz took a variety of service-learning classes related to her interest in politics. She participated in voter registration drives, hosted watch parties for debates, organized issue-oriented citizen action campaigns and held an election fair on campus during the 2017 election year. She served as an SLTA for the Focused Inquiry classes of Professors Amber Pearson and Ryan Cales and for Professor Alexandra Reckendorf's POLI 391 course.

“I think the most significant take-away I gained from my service-learning experience was teamwork,” she said. “I got to work with so many students, professors and community partners as an SLTA, and it really showed me how to work with others, be solution-driven and to be a working professional. It helped me articulate my teaching philosophy - helping students learn about social justice issues and how to work with communities to build partnerships that are beneficial for everyone.”

Diaz still works with one of the community partners she connected with as a student. She previously served on Virginia21’s student leadership council and now serves on the organization’s young professional advisory council. The organization helps to empower young people to impact Virginia politics.

“I serve as a guiding force to provide feedback on programming and organizational commitments,” she said. “I will also be paired with a student to serve as mentor to assist with networking and career readiness.”