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When the Student Becomes the Teacher: Arcelia Marquez Talks about the Transformative Power of Education

By Marilu Aguilar-Moreno
from Aspire’s Talent Team

Like many others who work in education, Arcelia Marquez became an educator herself, guided by the core value of serving her community. Growing up in southern California, Ms. Marquez went to elementary school in Gardena and graduated from San Pedro High School in a decision to secure her path to college. She reflected on her experiences as a student, “At the time, my mom wanted to make sure that my siblings and I had better educational opportunities…and in Gardena, most counselors weren’t tracking A-G Requirements for all students.” 

Ms. Marquez became the first in her family to graduate from the University of California, Merced, and now, she is a proud alumna of the Aspire Teacher Residency Program.

Although the journey required overcoming self-doubt, her unwavering determination to be an agent of change inspired her to become an Education Specialist at Aspire Pacific Academy in Huntington Park. 

A self-described life-long learner, Ms. Marquez shares her story, her eagerness to nurture her practice, and her vision of an education system reimagined. 

Arcelia Marquez headshot
Pictured: Arcelia Marquez, Education Specialist at Aspire Pacific Academy.

Tell me about yourself. Why did you decide to become an educator?
I knew that I wanted to dedicate my career towards service and helping those in my community. I stumbled upon becoming an educator after being offered a position supporting SPED students as an Instructional Assistant (IA). After joining Aspire, I reflected on my own experiences in education and I realized that my past experiences influenced my resolve to avoid any job in education. I was an average student in school, a floater, and didn’t have any teachers I could connect with. So by the time I was in middle school and high school, I had already developed a perception of my own abilities. I told myself that I just wasn’t good at certain subjects, and didn’t realize that the lessons weren’t as engaging for my learning style. At that time, I thought I couldn’t be a good teacher if I wasn’t a good student. 

However, it wasn’t until my third year as an IA that I seriously considered a career in teaching. Being at Aspire taught me the importance of meaningful connections in a learning environment. I recall the drive that teachers shared to serve their students, and at the same time, I was learning about the disparities in education that affect historically underserved communities. Now, I am three months shy of finishing my first year as an Education Specialist at Aspire Pacific Academy in Huntington Park, and my goal is to find intentional and creative ways to connect with and motivate my students while offering a positive learning experience for every student I have the pleasure of working with. 

How long have you worked at Aspire and what do you like most about what you do?
I’ve been with Aspire for five years now and I really enjoy working with students the most. I love ideating new ways of presenting information, helping students with their projects, and sharing resources that can enhance their learning experience. 

Can you share a bit about the Aspire Teacher Residency Program and why did you choose to enroll?
I chose to enroll in the Aspire Teacher Residency Program because I was looking for a program with a social justice focus and a residency model that applied theory into practice. When I enrolled in 2019, I was excited to form part of a cohort of like-minded individuals, and now, two years later, I am still learning from my colleagues and have grown to admire the educators that became mentors throughout my journey in the program. 

What change do you want to see in the education system?
The education system needs to be reimagined. To begin, I would like to see more appreciation and value attributed to teachers, who are some of the most invested individuals in the growth of young people. I would also like to see anti-racist practices in every school and equitable professional development for every educator, as Aspire has implemented and continues to evolve. Another thing that I’m really passionate about is disrupting the standardized testing industry. Test content is seldom culturally or linguistically responsive and it is a factor that contributes to the widening economic gap among schools. With that said, I want to see underserved communities having access to quality education and instruction that is comparable to schools from affluent communities, and I think Aspire is at the helm of that change. 

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What would you like to accomplish in the next 5 years?
In the next five years, I aspire to be a confident education specialist with the capacity to design and establish programming that facilitates effective collaboration between general education teachers and education specialists. With time, patience, and practice, I look forward to growing into my own leadership style. 

What is a lesson you’ve learned or advice you’ve received in your career that you’d like to impart to aspiring and practicing educators alike?
To be impactful educators, we must also work with families and the community at large. I remember reading What Great Teachers Do Differently: 17 Things that Matter Most by Beth Whitaker and Todd Whitaker and it said, “Great teachers have high expectations for students, but have even higher expectations for themselves.” This quote resonates with me because part of having high expectations for oneself is to assess the scope of your work and leveraging partnerships to provide holistic care for your students.

Learn more about the Aspire Teacher Residency Program and career opportunities here

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