The line I always say at the end of class was adapted from one that was said by my professors at the College of Education: 'Be kind to one another, it’s an honor and a privilege to teach and learn with you.'
Whether it’s in the classroom or after school, Pedro Navejas Rodriguez (U-ACT ‘13) is working to create spaces where all students feel valued.
That desire brought Navejas Rodriguez, a first-generation college graduate, to Grandview Middle School where he teaches 8th grade journalism and language arts, as well as Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) and alternative learning methods classes.
“I am passionate about this school and population because I am interested in working with rural Latino migrant communities,” said Navejas Rodriguez, who grew up in Jalisco, Mexico, and emigrated to the United States at age 8. “I relate to them because I grew up in a similar way. I feel like I can connect with the families because I want to be an advocate for them.”
Navejas Rodriguez grew up in small towns comprised almost entirely of Latino migrants and their families, and remembers feeling intimidated by the size of the schools he attended. He had to travel to schools in neighboring cities, sometimes riding the bus for as many as 13 miles. Yet he excelled academically and, after graduating from college, entered Teach For America and was placed in the University of Washington’s Accelerated Certification for Teachers (U-ACT) program to earn his teaching certification.
At Grandview today, Navejas Rodriguez is advocating for migrant families by supporting increased academic rigor for their children. He serves on the district’s curriculum council, which reviews and recommends new curricular materials to the school board and provides feedback on current use of curriculum for student learning.
“I am on the curriculum council because I want to put myself in those spaces to be part of the solution,” Navejas Rodriguez said. “Our community needs well-educated students and I see education as a primary social justice issue.”
During his time at Grandview, Navejas Rodriguez has taken up other efforts to help students feel valued. As a person who identifies as gay, Navejas Rodriguez initially sensed that it was not safe to share this aspect of his identity in his classroom or school.
Then, one student approached him about starting a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) club. Navejas Rodriguez advised the student that at least two people were needed to form a student organization.
“The next day, they returned with another student. When the group grew to five students, I started to see that GSA was something that our school needed. I set aside my little worries and said, ‘Let’s do this.’”
Navejas Rodriguez presented the idea to the school’s staff, and three years later, the GSA has helped Grandview students who were truant start improving their attendance. Up to that point, LGBT students had not been feeling supported at school. Navejas Rodriguez’ efforts to establish GSA have paid off, improving both student support and attendance rates. GSA meetings include various modes of artistic expression, such as slam poetry and physical art, through which students can convey images of their ideal school experience.
At Grandview, Navejas Rodriguez seeks to create spaces for belonging both in GSA meetings and in his classes. He recalls a unit where his 6th graders were analyzing texts, which led to the students reflecting on the documentary “The Masks We Wear.” Students were asked to write a letter to a person they trust, describing the mask that they wear.
“They were encouraged to ask the other person to respond in a letter as well. A student gave her letter to me which was totally unexpected. She explained what she thought that everyone saw in her and how she felt ugly and unworthy. I responded and told her that most characters in the books we read feel like her and how we all have doubts, but we need to focus on and recognize the things that we are good at. Afterwards, I could hear her saying the things that she was good at and telling people what she knew that she could accomplish.”
By creating an environment where all students feel valuable and loved and empowering students to be themselves, Navejas Rodriguez is instilling a confidence in his students that will last well beyond their middle school years.
“I want to help my students feel safe and grounded, but also to know that the things they learn in class will change the real world,” Navejas Rodriguez said. “The line I always say at the end of class was adapted from one that was said by my professors at the College of Education: “Be kind to one another, it’s an honor and a privilege to teach and learn with you.”
Dustin Wunderlich, Director for Marketing and Communications