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Representation as a bridge

When more students can see themselves in advanced classes, we build stronger bridges to college—and the community benefits.

Author: Daisy Torres

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When I was a little girl, I loved to read and would often lock myself in my bedroom for hours immersed in a good book. I remember reading about the perseverance of Helen Keller, who used her blindness to change the world. Because of my love for reading, by the time I was in 8th grade, I was placed in the “B” classes. I was one of only two students of color in the class.

Daisy Torres

My middle school leveled their classes by ability, with A level classes for the highest honors and the E level classes for the most remedial. My two best friends were in the D class, and I desperately wanted to be with my friends. In the other class, I had more students and teachers who looked like me and my friends.

I found the same type of practice in high school when I was placed in “College Preparatory” classes as a freshman. This was great for me, but what about all the other students, like me, who should also be in these classes? Why weren’t more students of color in higher-level and advanced placement classes and more teachers of color teaching them?

These experiences helped me decide I wanted different outcomes for students like me.

Becoming a teacher

I grew up in Meriden, Connecticut attending Pulaski and Roger Sherman Elementary Schools, Washington Middle School, and eventually graduating from Maloney High School. As a student in a college preparatory track, one adult in my life changed my path. That person was my Guidance Counselor, Robert Szymaszek. 

Mr. Szymaszek recommended me for a three-week college summer program at Connecticut College for first generation college-bound students in New London, CT. It was there that I experienced living on campus, received mentorship and an understanding of the college application process. 

After that experience, I was determined to be the first in my family to graduate college.

After graduating high school, I began a program called AmeriCorps, a one-year national service program that focuses on community service and job readiness skills. I was placed at John Barry Elementary School as an Early Literacy Facilitator for K-2 students. It is because of this experience that my love for teaching was born.

As a young mom, I worked during the day and attended school at night to realize my dream of becoming a teacher. I was so grateful to return to my hometown to student teach at John Barry and Nathan Hale Elementary Schools. 

I had a strong passion to teach where I grew up and was fortunate to be hired as a second grade teacher the following year.

Photo of Daisy with her students

My experiences as an elementary, TESOL, and Spanish teacher at the elementary, middle and high school levels has made me a well-rounded educator. I loved working with highschool students and helping them navigate the college process, something I know many of our students need today, especially first generation college students and English Learners. 

From getting by to leading

Thinking back on my own educational experiences, I know there are many students, like me, who are just getting by—the above average student who is compliant and well-liked, the English learner who was an A student in his home country and is barely passing his classes, and the students of color who are excelling in their classes yet who are not represented in advanced placement classes. I was determined to help change outcomes for these students.

My passion for addressing the inequities I continued to see every year led me to thinking about how I can change outcomes for students on a bigger scale.

Daisy and student

After my son graduated from high school, I took a position with New London Public School as a Supervisor of Bilingual Education. With a Masters in Bilingual Education, TESOL, and Multicultural Education and a Sixth Year degree in Educational Leadership, I was excited to lead change and focus on equity for all students. 

Today, as a Director of English Learner Services, Dual & World Language Programs for Hartford Public Schools, one of the largest urban school districts in CT, I am part of a team that truly believes in the urgency of addressing the achievement gaps of our students of color and English learners.

We are proud of the bilingual and biliterate students in our district. Last school year, 101 graduating seniors in 12 different languages were honored with the CT Seal of Biliteracy. We recognize the importance of valuing our students’ talents, culture and assets and believe they can achieve at high levels. 

three women smiling

Books as bridges

My love for teaching and education has and always will be with me. It is a true calling. I often think back to those days when I locked myself in my room to read for hours on end. As a lover of books, I recently wrote a children’s book entitled “I’ll See You On The Bridge,” a heartfelt story about pet loss inspired by the beautiful relationship between my son, Brandon, and our precious dog, Lily. 

The book will be released in November 2019 and book proceeds will be used toward a scholarship for a graduating senior in Meriden who will be pursuing a degree in veterinary medicine. 

It is my hope to help as many students over the years as possible realize their dreams of earning a college degree in the hometown that made it all possible for me to be where I am today.

Follow Daisy

Follow Daisy on social:

  • Facebook: Daisy Torres (Director of Bilingual Education)
  • Twitter @CTELDirector 

You can follow in her footsteps too. Start your career as a teacher and see where you’ll go. (Maybe you’ll be writing your own book soon!)  Have questions about your next step? You can talk to a TEACH Connecticut coach for free.