A young local man giving back to his community
Gladly Teaching and Learning in Newark
Like many US cities, Newark, NJ has faced it share of challenges. As a result, many of the “Brick City” youth leave the area, never looking back.
But great things are happening in the city. The arts are thriving, there is a diverse, expansive restaurant scene. And some of those youth now stay put and give back to the community they love, like Daniel Guerra.
Daniel, who was born and raised in Newark, wanted to be a teacher since he was a little boy. “One of my sixth grade teachers, Mr. Giuliano, had a passion for teaching and inspired me,” says Daniel. “He positively impacted students.”
Daniel’s parents, Portuguese immigrants who didn’t finish high school, always taught him to work hard for what he wanted.
“I went to public school and was eventually admitted into one of Newark’s top high schools,” says Daniel. “Unfortunately, I made some poor choices and then found myself in a ‘bottom” school. The experience, though, showed me the whole spectrum of Newark education.”
Daniel, however, got a second chance thanks to a local college program. Daniel earned enough credits for his high school diploma. He then went on to night school to finish his Associate’s degree.
“My parents couldn’t afford four years of state college, so I began my college career at county college,” Daniel explains. “I also worked there as a tutor for students who weren’t doing well. I wanted them to know there are people out there who want them to succeed.”
After receiving his Bachelor’s degree in English, Daniel heard about Teach For America (TFA). TFA is a national organization that recruits and develops a diverse corps of outstanding college graduates and professionals to make an initial two-year commitment to teach in high-need schools and become lifelong leaders in the effort to end educational inequity. Thanks, in part, to State Farm’s funding, students in these communities have a better opportunity to achieve academic success.
Daniel is a part of Teach For America’s network of more than 50,000 remarkable, diverse leaders stretching across the nation. Less than 15% of applicants are accepted each year. One hundred seventy TFA teachers currently work in New Jersey.
“TFA and I share a mutual goal in bettering communities like Newark,” says Daniel. “TFA does great things and I’m proud to be part of their efforts.”
Daniel is now a fifth grade English teacher at Team Academy Charter School, which was founded by TFA alumni. It is also a KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) school. KIPP schools are college-preparatory public schools preparing students in underserved communities for success in college and life.
“This school resonated with me because of the demographics,” Daniel says. “Most of the students are low-income. But I want them to know, although life can be tough, that doesn’t mean you ever give up.”
Some of these students see gun violence or gang activity, but I want them to persevere and become positive statistics of Newark, not negative ones,” continues Daniel.
In addition to their current curriculum, Daniel’s class created a comic book club. The group of 15 meets after school hours on Fridays to discuss comic books. Together, they’ve created some of their own comic book strips.
“The student who created this club has a strong passion and unique personality,” explains Daniel. “His mother told me I helped him transition into middle school, but its students like him who helped me transition into my first year of teaching.”
What Daniel finds particularly interesting in the comic book club is many of the students weren’t necessarily friends or in the same circle of friends.
“I hope to create an environment where my students are engaged, feel safe, and their voices can be heard,” says Daniel.
As for the next step, Daniel was just accepted into John Hopkins University’s Master’s program.
“I got my Bachelor’s degree in 6th through 12th education and always thought I would teach high school students,” says Daniel. “I’ve learned it doesn’t matter what age you teach. If you can be a positive role model, you’ll make a difference in students’ lives.”
But no matter where and what grade this Newark native teaches, Daniel will focus on making a positive impact in the community that made him the passionate teacher he is today.