• Juan Juarez in the classroom at KIPP Camino Middle School in San Antonio.
    Juan Juarez in the classroom at KIPP Camino Middle School in San Antonio.

While at Southwestern, Juan Juarez majored in political science, was captain of the Mock Trial team, and president of the PreLaw society. The 2011 graduate had his sights set on law school − but he never went.

Instead, after working for Teach for America at a KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) school in San Antonio, he kept working for KIPP San Antonio as both a teacher and an administrator. He recently received KIPP’s prestigious Miles Family Fellowship which, in the future, places him on the path to opening up his own KIPP school in San Antonio.

Juarez said when a Teach for America recruiter first contacted him at Southwestern, he wasn’t interested. But they didn’t give up.

“They gave me a call and said they just really wanted to learn about me,” Juarez said. “I really fell in love with the stories that they told me, which automatically made me start thinking about my childhood. I’m a first-generation college student, the first one to graduate from any type of university, and to hear those stories reminded me of everything that teachers have done for me. I wouldn’t be here without those individuals.”

With that in mind, he decided to give it a shot and go to law school afterward.

Juarez said teaching was “extremely difficult” for him at first, but he found he had a passion for KIPP’s mission. KIPP’s network of 141 free college preparatory public charter schools strives to get their students − 95 percent of whom are African American or Latino − “to and through college.”

“When I set foot in the classroom the first time − our school is predominantly Hispanic − I saw myself in those kids,” Juarez said. “When I was first in elementary school after I came to the United States from Mexico, I knew almost no English. My accent was extremely strong. I felt like teachers didn’t believe in me. I was kind of just put aside because I was that student who didn’t know English, the student who kept coming late, that student who’s already behind. People had given up on me. It wasn’t until high school when I was accepted to the Upward Bound program at Southwestern that I found a group of people who really believed in who I was regardless of my background and wanted to help me be successful.”

Juarez fell in love with teaching, and decided that the best way for him to continue to give back to the community was to stay in education rather than pursuing a law degree.

Although he hadn’t truly considered teaching until he joined for Teach for America, Juarez had already begun to lay the foundation for his career with KIPP San Antonio during his time at Southwestern. In addition to holding leadership positions with the PreLaw Society and Mock Trial, he also tutored and worked with children through organizations such as Circle K International, Operation Achievement and Upward Bound. These organizations taught him how to be a leader and that he enjoyed working with children.

But when Juarez looks back on his time at Southwestern, it was his Paideia cohort under communication studies professor Julia Johnson that influenced him the most.

“Our entire cohort focused on social justice and making sure that regardless of your ethnicity, your background, your income, your gender or sexual orientation, everyone was treated equally,” Juarez said. “I had Paideia meetings for three years and they made me ask, ‘What am I currently doing to make sure that I’m helping other individuals and to make sure that I’m creating a society where everyone feels valued, where everyone feels equal?’ Right now in our education system, our students are not being treated equally. Where you live determines what type of school you will get. They literally price homes more expensively so that certain people can’t move into those neighborhoods, and that angers me.”

Juarez hopes to use his Miles Family Fellowship to continue to serve those who are underserved in the San Antonio area by opening up a KIPP San Antonio elementary school within the next few years. The selection process for the Fellowship is a lengthy one and Juarez is one of the youngest applicants to ever receive it.

“I was the youngest candidate at the selection event,” Juarez said. “Everyone else had an average of seven or eight years of experience, some 10 or 11. I had two and a half years of experience. I knew it was going to be tough but I must have done something right because in the end they made a unanimous decision to award me the Fellowship.”

For the moment, he’s deferred the Fellowship in order to serve as KIPP Camino’s Assistant School Leader next year. This year he has been teaching 5th grade reading and serving as Director of Student Programs.

Juarez said one day he can imagine himself leading a KIPP region, and he hopes to eventually go to Harvard for his Ph.D. in educational leadership. Right now he’s working on his master’s degree in school leadership at Trinity University.

“I still love politics,” Juarez said. “I watch the trials sometimes on TV. I love shows like Law and Order. And I’ve asked myself, ‘if I had a chance, would I go back to law school? But I’ve really found something that I love and I know that I’m making an impact in the lives of students. I plan to be in education for the next 20, 30, 40 years.”  

−Elizabeth Stewart


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