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Rising Stars Irina Gonzalez and Priscilla Riojas

Making A Difference in Children’s Lives is the Vision of These Education Majors

Irina Gonzalez and Priscilla Riojas

Irina Gonzalez is passionate about the power of music in children’s lives. Priscilla Riojas will use her skills to help youngsters overcome stereotypes and socioeconomic disadvantages. Both of these students’ goals took a giant step forward when they became two of just 25 students nationwide to receive the 2009 Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF) Fellowships for Aspiring Teachers of Color.

The RBF established the fellowships in 1992 to combat an alarming trend. The organization says that by 2014, some 50 million children will be enrolled in public schools across the nation, more than half of them students of color. Yet today only 10 percent of public school teachers are people of color. Current trends indicate that by the year 2020, that will shrink to 5 percent.

Since the program’s inception, the RBF has awarded fellowships to more than 300 college students. As two of the most recent fellows, both Gonzalez and Riojas will receive up to $22,100 over a five-year period that ends when they complete three years of public school teaching.

Another benefit of being selected RBF Fellows is a weeklong trip to Washington, D.C. In August 2009, Gonzalez and Riojas joined the other 2009 RBF fellows in the nation’s capital. The students came from universities across the country, including Wellesley College, Duke University and the University of Chicago.

Gonzalez, Riojas and the others learned about applying for graduate school, met with former RBF fellows who have finished graduate school and discussed their summer teaching experiences. As part of the award, the RBF requires recipients to complete summer teaching projects between their junior and senior years.


Irina Gonzalez

Gonzalez completed her summer teaching project in her hometown of Laredo, Texas, where the music education major and drum major for Texas State’s Bobcat Marching Band was able to work in some time with her former high school’s marching band.

“Since high school band programs begin their marching season during the summer, I was able to lead sectionals, provide individual lessons, and teach group marching fundamentals,” she says.

Before working with the band, Gonzalez worked with Laredo’s Even Start program and taught music classes for three groups: toddlers (ages 1-3), pre-school (ages 4-6) and elementary (grades 1-5).

“Our activities included singing, making instruments and learning about instruments,” she says.

Before winning the fellowship, Gonzalez planned to start teaching immediately after graduation and attend graduate school during the summers, but she’ll now be able to start graduate school immediately after her 2008 graduation. Her ultimate goal is to return to the town where her passion for music ignited.

“Music has been part of my life since I started piano lessons at age 5,” Gonzalez says. “The immense impact that the fine arts have had on my life has made me sensitive to the need for fine arts education for all children.”

After graduation, Gonzalez would like to establish a fine arts magnet for the United Independent School District in Laredo. “Music provides an outlet that is challenging and satisfying; but beyond that, music gives me the opportunity to share my passion with students,” she says. “As a bilingual, creative thinker who is willing to take risks, I know that my voice must be heard not only as an advocate for fine arts, but as encouragement to children in public schools.”


Priscilla Riojas

Riojas has her own philosophy on education. “Children learn best when the material is taught in a variety of ways that appeal to all the senses,” she says. “It is important to offer various methods for students to express their thoughts, because many children have not yet mastered communication skills.”

The elementary education major from Murphy, northeast of Dallas, chose Texas State because of its education program.

“I continue to attend the university because it has offered me so much more than an outstanding education,” she says. “Texas State has allowed me to grow mentally, socially, spiritually and professionally through its campus community, resources and organizations. I’m proud to be a Bobcat!”

Riojas stayed in San Marcos to complete her summer teaching project at the Texas Mathworks Junior Summer Math Camp.

“The purpose of the program is to introduce students to beginning concepts in algebra and problem solving through play acting and exploration,” she says. “I taught and created lesson plans geared toward underprivileged girls, a new subgroup of the Junior Summer Math Camp. The focus was to provide a more exciting approach to learning math, in hopes of encouraging more women to seek careers in mathematics, science and technology.”

Riojas sees a variety of ways she can work with the children she cares so much about.

“I want to improve the lives of low-income, disadvantaged children of all ages through teaching, as a counselor or as director of an ‘at risk’ program,” she says. “I hope to support these children both personally and developmentally, because that will help them achieve academic excellence. Every person has unique strengths, skills and abilities, and I hope to bring that out of each and every child my path crosses.”


Related Links

Arrow College of Education
Arrow Department of Curriculum and Instruction
Arrow College of Fine Arts & Communication
Arrow School of Music
Arrow Rockefeller Brothers Fund
Arrow Bobcat Marching Band
Arrow Texas Mathworks
Arrow National Even Start Association
Arrow Texas Monthly Ad
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