By Education Change Intern Team Members Jayden Carty, Taite Popkin, Madison Acampora, Sarah Reynolds, and Joel Tolman
Ms. Debora Feliz joined Common Ground’s Special Education team this fall – working in particular with 9th graders, and bringing a background in supporting English learners as well. We are so happy she chose Common Ground! Keep reading to learn more about Ms. Feliz and her path to our community.
My job at Common Ground is to make sure students get the accommodations and modifications that they need to succeed in their learning. Some students benefit from small groups, others from extra time, or a different outlet to express themselves or produce their work. I make sure students have the resources they need at hand, and they have extra time to develop the skills that they first learn in the general population.
What do you bring to Common Ground that benefits our students?
What I bring to Common Ground is the ability to connect with students at a human level. I make sure we understand each other at the very first level – in regards to our physiological needs, our different demeanors. If I use five minutes of quality time to understand where you are coming from, I am going to be able to relate, and then build from there.
Why Common Ground?
I recently relocated to New Haven from New York City. As a result, I needed to find a job here. I applied at a number of different institutions, and Common Ground is the one I liked the most.
I chose Common Ground in part because of the surrounding environment. I really like the accessibility, being able to walk outside and enjoy nature – and also take advantage of the learning opportunities that presents. I also like that Common Ground has a farm and animals. I also like the administration. I feel they are really supportive, and I feel the staff here is really committed to help you as students succeed. Overall I like the energy – that is why I want to stay here.
This is also an opportunity for me to learn something new, and put myself in different waters. I have never taught high school before; the highest grade I worked with in the past was 7th grade. So taking this on is a challenge, a goal I have for myself. I really like to push myself out of my comfort zone. I like to learn and grow everyday, not stay at the same spot.
Working with 9th graders is different than I thought. I see them very eager to be part of high school. I see them having a stronger academic disposition. They want to be present; they want to take advantage of high school. That’s great!
What motivates me to work with young people is the different experiences you’re able to witness every day. It’s like being part of a fresh wave of information and energy. Being around young people keeps you up to date. You do things that we used to do when we were younger – but we don’t get to do it any more, because of our responsibilities. Here, we get to reminisce about it – remembering how I was hooked on a show, or how I used to dance.
What were you like as a high school student?
I used to be a dreamer. I would just create stories in my head, be in my own zone. I was over-protected by my parents. Math would come to me right away – I wouldn’t even need to try. But my grades were like, 75.
I grew up in the Dominican Republic, and went to a Catholic high school. It was based on different themes, or careers. You would choose when you got enrolled. My section was nursing. Other people focused on marketing, or computers. When we were 12, we had opportunities to go to different hospitals and practice with real nurses and doctors. We saw surgeries, and all of that. I loved it.
When I graduated, I started college in the Dominican Republic. My goal was to become a doctor, since that was what I had studied in high school. But then I had to come to the United States, and everything changed.
While the move to the United States was happening, I found it exciting. As an adult, looking back, I recognize that it was a bit traumatizing. I was a young person, developing my sense of self. When you are young, it would be great if you have a structured environment. The move from one nation to another was destabilizing for me. I didn’t know how to feel: Am I from here or from there? How am I supposed to act? I developed some social anxiety because of that, and had to get support to work through that.
When I first got to the United States, I spent a year learning English. Then, I took the SATs, and then began college here. I first tried Hostos Community College, in the Bronx – that’s where I learned English.
What path brought you to education?
When I was going to college, I used to work as a cashier. One day a customer came to me and offered me an opportunity to join her in the work that she did, as a teacher’s assistant. I took her word on that – she helped me apply, and helped me get into the New York Department of Education. Once I tried out the job, I identified with it. It was something that I wanted to do, in an environment that I wanted to be around.
In college, I geared myself towards getting a teacher license, and mastering children’s education. I went to Lehman College in the Bronx. I completed four years and got a bachelor’s degree on African and African American studies. Then I went to a graduate school at Adelphi University in Long Island; that’s where I mastered Special Education, with a Bilingual Spanish extension.
Tell us about yourself as a person. What are your interests? What would you like students and families to know about your family and life outside of Common Ground?
My main interests are singing and drawing. I enjoy a lot of things – cooking, and bike riding. I used to play volleyball in high school. I’ve been part of the church choir my whole life. Right now I’m not singing as much, because I moved, so I need to find that place here in New Haven. In regards to drawing, I do it to think and decompress.
I have two dogs. They are Maltese – they look like little white teddy bears. They were born in New York, and are brothers. They are so cute. They worry for each other, and wait for each other before going into the backyard.
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
I am able to make the right decision for myself, even if it’s challenging for me, or it’s not comfortable. One weakness is that I tend to run when I don’t like something – just drop everything and leave. But I caught it, so I’m working on it!
Common Ground is all about environmental justice. What does that mean to you?
Environmental justice means for me being kind to the environment, being mindful of the effect that our actions have on the environment. I really like the environment, so I think that people need to be kind as a whole. We depend on the environment a lot, and I believe that people need to be more knowledgeable about it. A lot of people aren’t doing justice to the environment, perhaps just because we are ignorant about it. A little more knowledge would be great.
Do you have anything you’d like to share with Common Ground students and families?
Question everything. Question everyone. When you hear something, and you have some doubt, question it. Exert that skepticism. It doesn’t matter who it comes from – question everyone.