Two juniors win Rockefeller Teaching Fellowships

Tatiana Cozzarelli ’08 and Whitney Nekoba ’08 are among twenty-five college juniors recently awarded Rockefeller Brothers Fund Fellowships for Aspiring Teachers of Color. The fellowship is designed to encourage students of color to pursue teaching in K-12 public education; the students receive a grant to complete a summer teaching project between their junior and senior years, assistance with paying for a master’s degree in education, and for each of the first three years they teach in the classroom they will receive money for loan repayments.

Nekoba is a Biology major with a minor in Education, and she will teach pre-algebra at her local high school in Hawaii over the summer. She explained, “the high school I went to recently dropped all math classes lower than Algebra One, so not all of the students will be adequately prepared.” She has taught math before, and “hopefully I can incorporate biology knowledge into it and add a little more personal relevance for the students.”

For Nekoba, education runs in the family. She explained, “my parents are educators so I grew up in that background… I didn’t think I would like education because I wanted to do something different, but I found that seeing how my parents help people I wanted to do that too.” She wants to be a high school biology teacher, she says, because “there’s a dire need for teachers in Hawaii where I’m from… hopefully I can take back some knowledge. I hope I can give back to the community that gave me so much.”

Cozzarelli is a special major in Education and Sociology/Anthropology with a minor in Women’s Studies, and she hopes to teach English or possibly Social Studies to middle schoolers in the future. “English allows one to connect with students in the way that I want to be able to do,” she explained, “and you can also do a social change curriculum in English.” She continued, “I want to teach middle schoolers because I think everyone has a difficult time in middle school… they’re coming into their own in terms of intellectual development, but it’s also a good time to change kids’ lives, whereas I think in high school that’s more difficult to do.”

Cozzarelli taught middle school Biology and Spanish with the Breakthrough Collaborative in Philadelphia last summer, and explained that she’s looking forward to doing something that is less strictly academic at the Durham Freedom School in North Carolina this summer. Cozzarelli has never been to the state before, but the school “has a hip-hop arts curriculum” which attracted her because of its relevance to the mostly Black and Latino student population. In the morning she’ll be teaching culturally relevant readings, and in the afternoon there will be a variety of electives. Cozzarelli will be teaching “critical media literacy… I want to give them tools to think about the things they are told in the media in terms of being a person of color and in terms of gender roles.”

Cozzarelli is hesitant but also excited about negotiating her queer identity within the middle school classroom, and is actually writing a thesis about LGBT teachers in K-12 classrooms. “Last summer I had a hard time because my boss did not want me to come out,” she explained. “There’s a mentality that middle school students are too young to know about this… but they know about straight people, right?” She continued, “there’s also a sense that they’re impressionable and that they’ll follow their teachers… but I’m not recruiting!” This summer, Cozzarelli looks forward to having a queer boss who will give her a new model for being queer in the classroom.

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