Antony Morales is in his first year as a teaching assistant and council coach at People’s Prep. A graduate of Rutgers, Antony recently sat down to discuss his path to and through college, his love of math, and his experience as a young teacher in Newark’s oldest stand alone charter high school.
Your family came to the U.S. when you were five. What obstacles did you have to overcome as a young man of color who was also a non-native English speaker?
From kindergarten up until fifth grade I didn’t know English. I had to take extra classes in order to go on to sixth grade and middle school. Growing up in New Brunswick, there was also a lot of gang activity at the time and, to be honest, I didn’t really think about college.
When I read People’s Prep’s mission and then saw the school model in action, it really made me want to be a part of it. I know that, if I would have had somebody like a council coach when I was a 9th grader, I would have been in a much better position to not only apply to more colleges, but also get more of a feeling what college actually was.
Tell us about your educational background and some of the professional choices you’ve made that have led you to People’s Prep.
I graduated from New Brunswick High School. I didn’t know where to go to college because I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I ended up at Rutgers as a liberal arts major so I could explore different interests. I found that I was attracted to math which had a lot to do with the way that I learned English. Math is a universal language, so you don’t have to know English to understand how to problem solve.
After I graduated, I worked in sales before coming to work here. I was drawn to People’s Prep because I saw it offered a lot of things I wish I had when I was in high school. Unfortunately, no one really looks out for people who come from areas like I did and our students do. People’s Prep offers a lot to our students to get them to college and be successful, and it’s one of the main reasons I wanted to work here.
When you look back at your path to and through college, what stands out as it relates to our students and their journey?
In my high school I didn’t have many teachers who I could relate to. There were no teachers who grew up in the environment that I grew up in or were first generation college-goers, and there were very few teachers of color. For a lot of people I knew, it was just expected that you would go right to work after high school, so my intention wasn’t really to go to college right away. I really never saw somebody like me in that position, so it was hard for me to visualize myself going to college.
Now I’m in this position where kids are able to see me and realize they can break away from the stereotype that men of color aren’t supposed to go to college. If I was able to do it, there’s no reason why they won’t be able to do it as well.
In your experience at People’s Prep, what do you think makes this a great school for novice or young teachers?
It’s a community where it doesn’t feel like it’s just you against the world. As a teacher you have coaches, experienced staff members, and teacher’s assistants to help you out. When I ask questions, I don’t just get the answer; I get offered extra support in the form of a phone call or a meeting if I need. That level of support is really important when you’re new to an organization that has a lot of systems already in place.
I’ve also had staff members who have gone out of their way to help out students in my council, even though it’s not their job. I think that’s something that you don’t see in a lot of other schools. We have teachers who genuinely care about the career of the staff and students. It’s not just about trying to help them learn and get better, but also taking the time to get to know them and help them personally.
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