Spotlight: Lauren Sepulveda (CT '19)December 12, 2019
A desire to bring equity into the classroom inspired Lauren Sepulveda (CT ’19) to teach social studies: “I believe our youth should be able to see themselves reflected in their history curriculum.” She received Connecticut’s 2019-20 Milken Award on October 1, 2019 at New Haven’s Clinton Avenue School.
Milken Family Foundation: What do you like about middle school?
Lauren Sepulveda: Middle school is such a special age. Students are still young enough to go on journeys with their imagination, yet old enough to begin forming and supporting authentic opinions. I get to see the students at the beginning of their quest to find out who they are and who they want to be. I am always honored when they come back to visit and I get to see how mature they have become.
MFF: You took a group of students to a three-day leadership conference in Vermont. What did your students learn there?
Lauren: A friend from high school who now teaches social studies in Hartford mentioned it—he attends each year. I am always trying to provide my students with new opportunities to shine. This trip was life changing for me and the 20 students who went. We learned so much together and made memories I will never forget. The best part is it led to a schoolwide community day, designed by the students on the trip, to help Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwestern Connecticut.
MFF: What brought you to education?
Lauren: I was extremely lucky to have teachers who lifted me up. Many of my teachers worked hard to ensure all of their students were cared for. I wanted to be able to do the same for others. In addition to this, I have a passion for social studies. I believe our youth should be able to see themselves reflected in their history curriculum. My love for kids and passion for bringing equity into the classroom drove my desire to teach.
MFF: How did your first year go?
Lauren: My first year teaching was rough, despite my best intentions. There were so many moments that no college course prepares you for. I remember reflecting each day on lessons, student work and moments in class. There were many sleepless nights and work-filled nights and weekends as I tried to figure out what kind of teacher I wanted to be. I am grateful to have had such a supportive seventh and eighth grade team, including Emily Cardozo, Richard Cowes, Mara Bensson and Chris Finan, who allowed me to vent and share both frustrations and successes. My first cohort of students (2010-11) gave me the best education on how to be a strong teacher. I think of them often. Every ounce of hard work and tears was worth it. The school where I currently teach is the school where I started. I can’t see myself anywhere else.
MFF: You bring a lot of guest speakers into your class. Why?
Lauren: I have welcomed the Broken Umbrella Theater Company to teach about the invention of the telephone; Daniel Trust to speak about the Rwandan Genocide; Daryl McGraw, the founder of Formerly Inc.; and amazing veterans on Veteran’s Day. I love connecting my students with people in the real world, and I strive to bring authenticity to the subjects I teach. I never want my students to feel so far removed and disconnected from a time period, situation, places or people that they are not invested in the importance of history and culture. Having real experiences will set my students up for success in the future. Not only does it reinforce the curriculum, but it helps students build compassion.
MFF: How did you feel at your Milken Educator Award notification?
Lauren: My life’s passion has been working to provide students with the highest quality education and ensuring all students have the tools they need for success. Teaching is a work of heart for me. I work hard each day because I truly love these kids and see them as our future. To be recognized in such a large way, for work I love so much, was completely unexpected. I remember standing in shock as I heard my name called. I remember looking around the room, being grateful for my supportive school family. I felt, and still feel, so incredibly blessed to have this amazing honor.
MFF: How did students respond to your Milken Award?
Lauren: I have the most incredible students and parents. They surrounded me, and continue to surround me, with love, support and encouragement. My students and their parents talk about this incredible moment often and are excited for the pride the Award has brought to their kids and our school. I plan to use this opportunity as a platform to be a voice for them and to keep bringing in opportunities to lift them up.
MFF: Who are your role models?
Lauren: Ada Rivera was the first person to trust me to teach in the University of Connecticut GEAR UP summer program she directed while I was still in college. She provided me with some of my first opportunities in a classroom setting. She modeled practices and policies years ago that are just being seen today as on trend.
Every principal I have been fortunate enough to have—Ana Rodriguez, Sandy Kaliszewski, Eddy Cordero, Yesenia Perez, Patty Gantenbein. They have given me so much wisdom and added value to the work I do. Kristina DeNegre, my current principal, has believed in my ability every step of the way and continues to challenge me and encourage me to grow. She, our ELA and math coaches Marilyn Ciarleglio and Marge Hughes, and the leadership team model each day the positive impact strong leadership can have on an entire school.
Teachers who showed me love, support, and encouragement include Ms. Diane Mello (dance), Mrs. Sprouse (kindergarten), Mrs. Rubin (second grade), Mr. Stone (fourth and fifth grade), Mr. Mearman (band), Mrs. Pyskaty (consumer science), Mrs. Haffner (chorus) and Mrs. Taylor (social studies). I am grateful each day to them for showing me the positive impact I can have on a student’s life.
My most important role models, although not teachers by trade, are my parents, Mary and Lou Sepulveda. They encourage and love me in all that I do and instilled in me the importance of education. I see them, and my grandmother Irma Sepulveda, in so much of what I do and how I teach.
MFF: How will you use your $25,000 Award?
Lauren: I’m putting it toward my student loans. Many people do not realize how much education teachers themselves must go through. I am currently in graduate school at Quinnipiac University. This award is such a blessing and is going to alleviate a great amount of stressful student loan debt.
MFF: How do you define “success”?
Lauren: Success is being so good at or passionate about something that you can begin to give back and lift someone else up with your talents. Maya Angelou said, “If you get, give. If you learn, teach.” Self-empowerment and giving back to the community are two traits I try to instill in my students to find their own success. I also encourage them to find success in leadership, although I do understand that some people may not be comfortable in a leadership role. I tell my students that it’s okay if you are not always the leader, as long as you are following greatness.
MFF: What do you hope your students remember from their time with you?
Lauren: I hope they carry a love for history, pride in their cultures, and a heart full of love and memories from our time together. I hope they remember that I will always be their teacher. They can reach out to me any time.
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