A Tale of Two Back to School Nights

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Excitement and enthusiasm were in the air as teachers in my new high school in a middle class neighborhood prepared their classrooms by decorating their bulletin boards, displaying student work, and straightening desks. Welcome messages abounded, Remind.com messages were sent, and we opened our doors to meet the parents.
I have done these events for 24 years, four times a year at my former school in South Central L.A. But this year’s Back to School Night left me reflecting, and perhaps shedding a tear.
First, my new parents were fantastic. They were friendly, enthusiastic, and supportive of the new ideas I bring to the school. I knew in them I would have allies to incorporate my findings from my Fulbright exchange in Finland earlier this year. Parent after parent nodded their heads and strongly affirmed that break time was important to students, teachers, and workers in general. They were excited to hear about the summer travel programs I had prepared.
As I looked at their warm and s…

FULBRIGHT: The Application; Am I Worthy?


As a classroom teacher, milestones that determine your accomplishments are quite different than in other professions. Managing an unruly department can be an accomplishment. Applying for and earning a school grant is laudable. National Board Certification? Props.

But would these be enough to qualify me for a Fulbright?

The application itself was formidable. You can peruse it here.

The main focus of the application was previous travel experience and qualifications. Moving to a foreign country for 6 months is no joke, and I saw the questions as a way to gauge your sturdiness in adapting to foreign cultures. While  Finland is not dramatically different than the U.S., the climate is. Going from the land of eternal sunshine to 5 hours of daylight upon arrival will take some adjustment.

For my letters of recommendation, all those commissions in which I participated came in handy. I did not hesitate to ask leaders in education for a letter. They not only obliged, but cheered me on.

For my professional accomplishments, I thought about what I had tried to accomplish during my 20+ years as a teacher:

  1. becoming a model for my students
  2. acquiring top-notch training
  3. joining professional networks
  4. stemming the loss of teachers at my high-needs school
  5. elevating the profession
And yet I was intimidated by the Fulbright. Who did I think I was thinking I could represent the United States of America in such a prestigious manner? Although friends and colleagues assured me I was a strong candidate, I always have a crisis when it comes to high profile opportunities. Teacher stage fright.

I reflected over the study tours I had taken around the world on teacher delegations.

I though of the commissions I worked on at the CA Department of Education.

I thought of the awards I had been fortunate to received.

And then I received a message from a long lost student on Facebook (posted with her permission):

Hello Ms. Infante,

You may not remember me but I'm a former student of yours. I graduated from Bethune MS back in 2005 (12 years ago, WOW!). Just wanted to express my gratitude for encouraging me along with many others, to go to college and succeed in life.

I had a few behavioral issues but with no hesitations, and no questions asked, you enrolled me into the Honors program in Bethune. With the guidance of caring individuals like yourself, I had the support needed to succeed. I'm currently a Graduate Student at CSULB School of Social Work.

Aside from education goals, I also owe to you my aspirations to travel. During our history class you would ALWAYS encourage us to consider traveling. You gave us a sneak peak of the world through pictures of trips you had taken. I remember thinking, God... when I grow up, I'd like to do that! At that age I knew nothing but the streets of South LA. And now, I've visited 9 countries, and counting 😉

The work you do, TRULY changes lives! You instill dreams to students, and you give us the support needed to ensure those dreams come true. You've planted so many seeds throughout the years in areas where there was nothing but dirt....and now, thanks to you, there is a garden 🌼Thanks to individuals like you, generations of educated Latinos are rising. We are no longer a statistic, but are becoming constructive members of society. Thank you for looking past behavioral issues, challenges, and other things, and for valuing each student beyond their flaws, and seeing their true potential 🙂

Best Regards,
Ariana Z

Become a role model for your students. How could I look my students in the eye, exhort them to work hard, dream big, and fly if I wasn't willing to do this myself? After wiping the tears and reflecting on how many students are watching what we say and do, I began the Fulbright application process. After an agonizing 5 month wait, I learned that I too, would be a Fulbrighter. And now the work begins.


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