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Top Rockefeller Fellowships Awarded to Future Teachers from Mount St. Mary's

June 8, 2007 -- Two future teachers studying at Mount Saint Mary’s University have been awarded prestigious Rockefeller Brothers Fund 2007 Fellowships for Aspiring Teachers of Color. Founded in 1992, the goal of the fellowships is to increase the number of highly qualified teachers of color in K-12 public education in the United States. Each year, up to 25 students across the nation are given fellowships.

MSMU child development major Monica Arellano and history major Claudia Luz Barraza, both juniors, were selected by Rockefeller officials for their passionate commitment to teaching in urban schools. "It's encouraging to know such bright and dedicated young people will be teaching in our public schools," officials wrote about the students.

Mount St. Mary's was among 16 colleges and universities nationwide invited to offer candidates for the fellowship. Students also received fellowships this year from Brown University, Wellesley College, Duke University, Pomona College, and the University of Chicago. Since the program's inception in 1992, 28 Mount students have been awarded fellowships—more than from any other institution in the country.

Arellano and Barraza will develop and implement an education-related summer project and present their projects at a workshop in Washington, D.C. They also will receive up to $22,100 in financial assistance to attend graduate school.

Arellano got her first glimpse at the difference she could make in her East Los Angeles neighborhood as the student body president at Garfield High School. She organized free, after-school tutoring for low-income children, organized toy drives for them, and got to know their families—her neighbors—better. She said this kind of community involvement has inspired her to teach, even though day-to-day life brought gang violence to her doorstep.

"A teacher must be willing to make time to help children deal with whatever challenges they face," said Arellano, a middle child in a family of eight. "I know that teaching goes beyond simply the academic instruction provided in the classroom."

For Barraza, her trip to New York for the Rockefeller selection process was a long way from the Boyle Heights school she attended—and the message she said she got that college may not be for her. "I had to deal with the stereotype that I wasn't going to amount to anything because of where I was from," said Barraza, who now lives in Alhambra, Calif. "I want to give people the motivation to achieve their dreams."

Barraza's parents are immigrants from Mexico, and she and her older sister will be the first in their family to complete a four-year degree. Though Barraza attended Catholic schools for much of her childhood, a rough spot with family finances placed her in a public high school in San Gabriel, Calif. She said she would like to teach history at San Gabriel's San Gabrielino High School, from which she graduated.

"I want to offer opportunities to students and to be a role model like the people who pushed me and told me I could do it," she said.

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