Phoenix, AZ – Ricardo Palomera is a high school history teacher at North High School in Phoenix, and at age 23, he’s not much older than his students.
Ricardo explains that his inspiration to teach came from a teacher, “I love my job and there is nothing else that I would rather be doing, because I’ve been wanting to be a teacher since about the seventh grade, and it was my history teacher who helped me get onto that path. I’ll never forget when on the last day of school, our teacher gave us booklets that sort of told us how he felt about us as students. One of the things that was included in there was what kind of career he thought each student could do, and for me it said “teacher,” which opened up my eyes and ever since then I’ve had the mindset of being a teacher.”
Ricardo was born and raised near Seattle, Washington until his family moved to Avondale, Arizona when he was about age ten. Ricardo graduated from Westview High School before attending Arizona State University, where he graduated in 2016 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Secondary Education.
Ricardo is among the hundreds of high potential students from low income circumstances who have earned scholarships from College Success Arizona, which provide up to six-thousand dollars per year for educational expenses. The scholars also receive specialized mentoring services provided by a team of talented “Success Advisers.” Ricardo says his adviser, Myrna Cardenas, provided him with encouragement and guidance to succeed in college:
“One of the great things about how Myrna really helped me out is how I could relate to her, because Myrna is from Oregon and I’m from Washington, which was really cool. And, Myrna was really great to talk to and she just made my entire college experience so much easier. Because of Myrna’s help, I was able to not feel as intimidated going to college because I knew that every semester I got to see her, and talk to her about things that were weighing on my mind, and she helped me out. Myrna has her Master’s degree and she helped to motivate, and inspire me, to achieve my educational goals and dreams.”
Ricardo adds that the financial aspect of the scholarship helped ease his money worries, “That scholarship is probably the best thing that’s happened to me. I got really lucky because I didn’t have to pay anything for college out of pocket. I didn’t have any loans, and I did work through college but I didn’t necessarily have to, because I had enough money coming in from College Success Arizona, as well as some other scholarships and grants.“
Looking at his future, Ricardo explains that teaching high school history is playing a big part in his long-term goal of earning a doctorate degree in education and becoming a college professor, “Some people think that teaching is a sort of deal that ‘anyone can go up in front of a room of students and lecture for an hour.’ But, I want to know how to actually help students know what’s actually going on in the classroom. So, I became a teacher to really learn how to ‘teach’ before I become a professor.”
Meanwhile, being a young high school teacher could come with the advantage of being able to more easily relate to the students, but it could also come with the disadvantage of not having more age and experience to draw on, in the effort to gain the students’ respect. Ricardo says, “I’d say that my age helps me a lot with the students because it made it easier for us to connect and to communicate about certain things, but the tough part was getting the students to think of me as their teacher, rather than just another person, and to really respect me as a teacher. But overall, I think that being a young high school teacher has helped me more than it has hurt me.”
Ricardo says his own school experiences are helping him relate to his students who are predominantly Hispanic and African American, “I’m a student of color, so that helps me to understand a little bit more about some of the obstacles that some of these kids are facing. My students are predominantly brown and black, and so going through the first year I wasn’t as shell-shocked as some of the other new teachers. I now view teaching as my sort of activism that I’m giving to the community, and my passion for teaching is as strong as ever.“
Ricardo has some advice for middle and high school students considering their own college options and opportunities, “You really have just got to believe in yourself and you’ve got to believe in what you can do, and what you are capable of doing. And, it’s so important to stay focused and stay motivated, and understand what you want to do, and always know that school is honestly the best thing that you can do for yourself. Graduating from high school and graduating college – you’ll have so many more opportunities available because of it. You will meet so many more people because of college and your life will get a lot better, no matter what.”
Since 2005, College Success Arizona has worked with nearly 1,300 students, and provided more than 16 million dollars in scholarships and success services to help increase the college attainment rate in Arizona. If you would like to be part of the mission of providing educational opportunity to high potential students from low income backgrounds, your tax deductible contribution can be made through the “Donate” button at the top of this page.