A special program to help bring more teachers of color to Joliet schools

University of St. Francis announces the 3 latest recipients of its newest MERIT scholarship

Jasmine Flores, Isabel Jaquez and Crystal Mendoza are the three newest MERIT (Multicultural Education Recruitment in Teaching) Scholarship recipients at the University of St. Francis in Joliet.

Flores graduated from Joliet Central High School in 2018, recently graduated from Joliet Junior College and hopes to teach social sciences.

Jaquez graduated from Bolingbrook High School and hopes to teach at an elementary school. Mendoza graduated from Joliet West High School and hopes to teach U.S. history.

The MERIT program is a partnership between USF, Joliet Township High School District 204, Joliet Public Schools District 86 and the Joliet business community to help “recruit, prepare, place and induct a new generation of teachers of color for Joliet’s schools,” according to a news release from the University of St. Francis.

To that end, the MERIT Scholarship “provides scholarship funds for qualifying students of color who major in education at USF,” the release also said.

Recipients are then required to teach in a Joliet school for either four years (for Joliet Township High School District 204 and other area seniors planning to attend USF for four years) or two years (for Joliet Junior College students planning to transfer to USF for two years).

All three recipients said they are looking forward to learning, growing as teachers and connecting with their students.

Jacquez being a MERIT scholar is more than an opportunity to be “the best possible teacher.”

I also get to be for someone else, what I never got as a little girl, a teacher who looks like me,” Jacquez said in the news release. “While all of my teachers were amazing, none of them looked like me nor had a similar background as me or had the same passion that I do for my culture.

“Being a MERIT scholar means that I am going to be a teacher in a community where there are many children of color, and I get to be their teacher. My students will walk into my classroom and see someone who is like them, someone who can show them they can be any they want to be regardless of where they came from or what color their skin is,” said Jaquez, who is a graduate of Bolingbrook High School.”

Flores is also hoping to bridge the “divide between teachers and with the students” as she recalled the lack of “enough minority teachers to balance with the minority populations of the schools” during some of her previous school experiences, she said in the release.

“As a teacher, I want to be able the build relationships with my students through the understanding of the cultural norms and using them to create a unique curriculum that will inspire students, rather than bore students,” Flores said in the release. “I want to pursue education because I want to be the missing voice in faculty discussions to stand up for minorities and to give an insider perspective on what will benefit the majority.”

For Mendoza, being a MERIT scholar helps her cement a longstanding goal of becoming a teacher.

“To be a MERIT Scholar means the world to me because it will help me turn my dream into a reality,” Mendoza said in the release. “Further, it will allow me to share my experience with a diverse group of students,” she said.

For more information on the MERIT program at the University of St. Francis, visit stfrancis.edu/merit.

Denise M. Baran-Unland

Denise M. Baran-Unland is the features editor for The Herald-News in Joliet. She covers a variety of human interest stories. She also writes the long-time weekly tribute feature “An Extraordinary Life about local people who have died. She studied journalism at the College of St. Francis in Joliet, now the University of St. Francis.