We’re proud to celebrate Hispanic culture, heritage, and traditions all year long. This week we’re even more excited because we sat down with an AF family to learn more about what Hispanic heritage means to them! Earlier this week, we talked to first-grader Iset and her mom Melissa who are both at AF Bushwick Elementary. Today, we sat down with Iset’s dad, Joshua, who works at AF North Brooklyn Prep Elementary as a dean of school culture.
Tell us about yourself!
I am currently a dean of school culture at AF North Brooklyn Prep Elementary. Before that I oversaw kindergarten and first grade social studies and science as a content specialist, which I absolutely loved. I also taught high school American history, then I completely went the other way and taught pre-K for three years. I taught at a trauma-informed school and that was a really good experience. I’ve always wanted to be in leadership in a school, so I’m really happy to be in my position now and I’m looking forward to what the future holds.
What motivates you to do the work you do?
When I was teaching high school in the South Bronx, I was fresh out of college. I thought, “I’m young, I’m a Latino coming into a Latino community, I’m going to change the world.” But the school I worked at had really low expectations for students, and it was painful to see high schoolers reading below grade level. That’s why I started teaching pre-K. At Achievement First, we don’t let the situation control a child’s life. We see children where they are, and we push them to where they need to be. And I think that’s the right mission to have. That’s why I I love my school. That’s why I encouraged my fiancée to come work here. That’s why I enrolled my daughter at AF.
It’s inspiring to hear your passion and commitment to this work. So what’s it like having your daughter and fiancé at AF?
It’s exciting and scary. At AF, we’re driving the student experience to be more impactful and more meaningful for children. As a dean of school culture, I feel an added level of responsibility to make sure that what I am doing is always in service of children. It’s easy to think of our scholars as scholars, but my daughter attends this school, so I look at our scholars as my children. This is a family, and I have to think about how I want my family to experience school.
That’s a great way to think about your role! So as you know, we’re celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month and you mentioned being Latino. Can you share more about your background?
My family is from Puerto Rico. I was born in a very small town called Fort Drum. When I think about growing up in upstate New York, my Latino heritage wasn’t very present. My two older sisters spoke Spanish, and they were held back because there weren’t any ESL (English as a Second Language) programs. When I was born, my parents didn’t teach me Spanish because they didn’t want me to be held back. So I came into this world not knowing the language, which impacted my relationships with my family. I would just watch my sisters talk to my grandparents in Spanish and every time I was on the phone, I’d be sitting there in awkward silence. Then in school, we didn’t talk about Latino culture. I never saw Latino adults in the building, and it wasn’t until college that I even got a taste of what it meant to be Latino.
What were some of the things you experienced once you got to college?
I learned a lot about myself, my history, and the culture. Now, that motivates me as the dean of school culture—especially in north Brooklyn where upwards of 80 percent of our children are Latino. I feel it’s my responsibility to make sure that they feel the representation in the building, and that they see people who look like them and sound like them. I make an effort to speak Spanish as often as I can in front of kids. Their ears perk up when they hear Spanish at school. It’s that connection from school to home that kids really appreciate. I want them to know they are heard and represented. I wish I’d had that when I was a child.
That’s so powerful. We bet your students love hearing Spanish at school. Before we wrap up, is there anything else you’d like folks to know about your experience?
When it comes to Latino culture in general, we’re talking about people who represent the countries of Latin America—that’s thirty-three different countries with hundreds of different cultures and variances in dialects of Spanish, Portuguese, and other languages. The Latino experience is just so complex and diverse. I think the most important thing that I would want people to hear is that when it comes to being Latino, we are all unique. The beauty of being Latino is that we’re an amalgamation of so many different cultures.
We would love to have you as a part of our Achievement First family!