CORONA — Though students didn’t begin filing into her classroom until Sept. 6, Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Academy’s newest kindergarten teacher started her school year nearly a month ago.
For Jessica Jerez, it takes more than lesson prep to be an educator — it requires a dedicated effort to make her classroom a second home to her students. During the past month, she has been doing exactly that: enlisting her family to help put up posters, pull books from storage, and reorganize the room to best serve her incoming students.
Jerez, 35, has been a Catholic school teacher for nine years, and is joining the Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Academy staff after taking a year of maternity leave to raise her first-born daughter, Valentina. She will be in charge of about 20 students in the upcoming school year, and was determined to set the right tone for them from the start.
Jerez decorated her classroom with “Pete the Cat”-themed posters and toys, but also equipped it with audiobooks and educational games to enhance the childrens’ learning experience. Her husband, Kevin Rosales, pitched in, painting the classroom cubbies, and his sister, Fatima Rosales, set up a library for the kindergartners in one corner and stocked it with books.
“Invest in your classroom, because these students are going to be with you [all day],” Jerez said. “I try to find things that I know, having a daughter, that I would want for my child.”
Jerez was born and raised in the Corona community where she will now be working. As a product of Catholic elementary and high schools herself, she’s experienced first hand the benefits of that faith-based learning environment.
“Working in a Catholic school, you have more of a connection with the students. It’s more like a family,” she said. “That’s very important, especially in this community.”
A majority of the parents of the 305 students enrolled at Our Lady of Sorrows are undocumented immigrants, according to the school’s principal, Francis Serpico. English is not the first language for many, so Jerez says she will repeat the lessons in Spanish. For those students who live in low-income households, she will buy school supplies for them. All told, Jerez estimated she spent around $500 to get her classroom ready, an expenditure applauded and appreciated by Serpico.
“This isn’t a job. This is a ministry,” he said, noting with pride that his teachers are not in it for the money or the recognition; they are in it for the students. They don’t hesitate, he added, to dig into their own pockets to buy supplies, food, or even small gifts for the schoolchildren.
“God puts us here for a reason and, for whatever that reason is, it’s His plan. Each of us are called to be here for a purpose,” he said.