It almost feels like it was yesterday for Ashley Brea Tavarez when a visiting professor came to her fifth-grade class and questioned her intelligence. He had posed a high-level math question, which Ashley alone promptly answered correctly. The professor mockingly suggested she must have been in an earlier class when he posed the same question.
“I remember being so confused as to why it was so hard to believe that I just figured it out on my own. Throughout my life, I attended only public schools in low income neighborhoods of the Bronx. I experienced how the lack of resources and investment of funds impacts the quality of education. More so, it impacts the way that children attending these schools view themselves and their potential.”
While that visiting professor’s remarks stung, happily for Ashley she did have a teacher who believed in her and was her main motivator throughout her life. He was also a member of Teach for America (TFA), a national corps of leaders who commit to teaching in low-income schools and work to increase their students’ opportunities in life. That teacher’s influence and her studies at Queens College influenced her choice to also join TFA.
“I always knew I was ready to go back and work in low-income communities, such as the one I was raised it. I was just never sure in what capacity that would be. After learning more about the education inequity through my Urban Studies courses, my desire to work for TFA increased. My own experiences growing up, such as the lack of confidence some teachers in public schools have in their students, fueled my passion to do so.”
Ashley has a double major in Psychology and Urban Studies and has been on the Dean’s List each of her four years. She’s volunteered as a peer counselor in Peer Support Services at Queens and was Vice President of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars for Queens’ PACE (Planning to Achieve Collegiate Excellence) sector. She chose Macaulay for its selectivity and special benefits.
“I liked the thought that I would have individualized attention through our assigned advisors and a social advantage coming into college with pre-made friendships. More so, the opportunity to have funds available for studying/service abroad was extremely attractive due to the financial constraints I was raised with.”
Ashley also studied abroad in the Galapagos through the Opportunities Fund. Her parents arrived from the Dominican Republic years ago, and her father had a law degree that wasn’t applicable in the U.S., so he is currently a taxi driver. Her mom is a homemaker, and her older sister graduated from Queensborough Community College. At Macaulay, Ashley has found a second family.
“I think what I love most is the connections I made not only with my peers, but also with my advisors. The Macaulay family at Queens College is extremely supportive and believe in you even when you may not believe in yourself. Throughout my four years, I was always pushed to do my best and to never give up.”
Next for Ashley is traveling to live in Oklahoma City to begin her commitment for Teach for America as an elementary school teacher. She expects to be an inspiration to another little girl or boy who may have encountered teachers who questioned their ability. It will be a way for her to give back and to inspire children the same way that she was inspired.