A Light in My Gap Year

Working in retail, volunteering at a school, and going to a large commercial gym, I interact with a lot of people on a daily basis. But, I’ve consistently felt supported and heard by the elementary program coordinator at the after school program, Ms. Mary Cortez.

After I was approved for the volunteer position, Ms. Cortez reached out to me over email in September. Starting my first day, she made sure I felt comfortable, knew what the rules for our kids are, and felt confident in my leadership skills. She imparted knowledge from her over 25 years over teaching experience. From teaching multiplication facts to a room of 20 fourth graders, to making sure she asked every child how they’re doing, she cares deeply for all of our kids. Seeing her do work she is passionate about inspires my every day.

In January, Ms. Cortez asked my to substitute for her on a day when I usually don’t come in. She said her daughter was in the ICU and didn’t know how long it would be until she would return to school.

Every child asked about her, prayed for her daughter, and missed her dearly. I was incredibly nervous to fill her shoes. Then, I realized she leads by example. I started thinking about what she would do and how she would handle different situations. The other teacher and I made it through the week and a half without her. The work she does for our kids was even more apparent while she was gone.

As my volunteer position was converted to an internship, I started working at her office and the school. She carefully goes through all the worksheets, test scores, and applications for the after school program. No matter the conflicts between kids, complaints from parents, or pandemic restrictions, she stays calm and true to her values.

As we near the end of the school year, I can see my growth as a teacher and a person. I can contribute that largely to the mentorship of Ms. Cortez. Her leadership has made my gap year an incredibly formative experience. I am so lucky to have her by my side this year.

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