BRISTOL – The Bristol Association of Retired Teachers has awarded its annual scholarships this year to Ashlynn Jefferson, a senior at Bristol Eastern High School, and Derek Mason, a senior at Bristol Central High School.
The scholarships go to graduates of the Bristol public school system who plan to pursue a career in teaching. To be eligible, applicants must be in the top 25% of their class, have a letter of recommendation from a teacher or counselor, show an interest in educational and community activities, said Barbara Wojtusik of BART.
Applicants also must write an essay explaining their reasons for choosing a career in education and referencing a teacher, past or present, who has influenced the choice.
Winners of the BART scholarships read their essays at a scholarship dinner for the members of the association.
Jefferson will be entering Central Connecticut State University in the fall to major in special education.
During her time at BEHS, she was active in Unified Sports, had an internship with Unified Arts, was historian of the National Honor Society, and was a member of the Spanish and the Science National Honor Societies.
As she comes from a family of five siblings, “she is largely responsible for her own education and has raised money through embroidery design, as well as working at Industry Comics, and is presently in Dee’s Cleaners and Laundromat, while maintaining sterling grades and volunteering for numerous activities,” said Wojtusik.
Mason intends to major in special education at the University of Connecticut.
He has earned several academic awards in high school and has been active as a baseball player. He was named after former New York Yankee Derek Jeter, said Wojtusik. He has played for BCHS, the Bristol American Legion, Edgewood Little League, and Bristol Parks and Recreation.
His other activities include InterAct Club, a BCHS community service group sponsored by the Bristol Rotary Club; Excel Club, sponsored by the Bristol Exchange Club; Student Council; Spanish National Honor Society; National Honor Society; and volunteering to help clean up McCabe Waters and Edgewood Little Leagues’ fields and raise money for charities.
Ashlynn Jefferson’s essay
I have always had a passion for helping, guiding, and assisting my peers and knew since childhood that I wanted to be a teacher. While through the years my subject choice has varied, in recent years it has become more clear that working with children with special needs is meant for me.
One of the defining moments I can remember was when I was only seven years old and observed a student being teased by a classmate: taking her supplies, judging her appearance, mimicking the way she spoke, and other unbearable comments. I tried to understand what could have been going through this mean girl’s mind to make her believe she was more important that the other; there was no rhyme or reason for her actions and cruel words.
This experience impacted my young, impressionable mind and sparked a fuel inside of me to “be the change” and advocate for this overlooked, misunderstood community. I decided to befriend the girl that was being bullied and foster a genuine friendship. I sat with her at lunch, we played together at recess, enjoyed her adored fragrant nail polish; we were buddies.
Since then I have participated in eight years of Unified Sports and have spent over 150 hours in the special education classroom working one on one with students, facilitating small groups, constructing and teaching art activities and helping with anything else that I can.
Over the years of working in the special education classroom, I have seen several teachers and several teaching techniques; one that stands our however is Ms. [Kara] Banda. Since my freshman year of high school she has guided me through any questions I have toward becoming an educator. When working with children with disabilities, there is a large range of level of ability. Watching Ms. Banda has taught me the importance of incorporating all learning styles to ensure every student receives the knowledge.
These experiences have prepared me in so many ways to be the teacher I have always admired. With my classroom, I can ensure that all of my students are involved and know their worth. I know that one day I will be able to have a classroom of my own and cannot wait to share the lessons I have learned.
Derek Mason’s essay
It all started on Dec. 4, 2012. The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut changed how I thought about education forever.
At just age 11, I may not have understood every little thing people said and did about the massacre, but I did feel terrible for all the people who lost someone that day. One person who was grieving a loss happened to be my sixth grade English teacher. Some of her dearest friends, Jimmy Greene and Nelba Marquez-Greene, lost their six year old daughter Ana.
My teacher was a woman who taught with the strongest passion out of any teacher I have ever come across and someone who would run through a hurricane and back for any for her students, so seeing her suffering was very tough for me.
The entire experience I had related to the tragedy in Newtown altered my perceptions of educators. I learned about their importance and what they actually do, through my teacher, other people who had relations to the victims, and all the educators who work strenuously to get the community functioning again. Teachers do not simply just educate the youth, they often motivate, protect, engage, influence, lead, and empower the children they encounter forever, and so much more.
My huge perception and value for teachers came about when I was 11 years old, but my desires to become one of those individuals I find so critical to the youth of today came along more recently through my experiences working and interacting with children of all different ages, backgrounds, and physical and mental capabilities.
I have enjoyed volunteering for my town’s Parks and Recreation Department by helping organize and instruct youth baseball camps during the winters and summers. I really enjoyed all aspects of the interactions with the kids, whether it was teaching them specific baseball skills, the importance of drinking water and staying cool, or how to win and lose respectfully.
Being one of the group’s “coaches,” I also had to ensure the kids were being involved and acting appropriately and safely, so I learned how to get the quiet and shy children more engaged and how to redirect children with shorter attention spans.
My time with the children at baseball has been just one of my main motivators to become an educator. Other personal experiences have driven me specifically toward special education. During my sophomore year, a number of special education students would routinely join our gym class.
One such student with severe developmental disabilities would always want to talk to everyone, saying hello and offering a high five. I would talk with him for the 10 to 15 minutes that I had left over from the time that was allotted for students to change. He would talk about anything on his mind, from what he had for lunch, to his favorite things to do in class – adding and subtracting.
Another special education student I have enjoyed interacting with extensively is a student in my group of freshmen in the “Rambassador” program I discussed in the first essay. This student has moderate autism, and I interact with and assist him as much as I can so he can participate in activities and discussions with the rest of the freshmen.
My experiences with all kinds of children, particularly those with special needs, motivated me to pursue a career in special education. I hope to be an educator that fits my own definition of one: one who motivates, protects, engages, influences, leads, and empowers the students they find their way across.
Susan Corica can be reached at 860-973-1802 or firstname.lastname@example.org.