It took a crowd-sourced confab to Spain to ignite Jennifer Aguirre’s fire for individual leadership and student-led advocacy.
Tasked with the responsibility of helping her students raise over $20,000 to finance a trip across the Atlantic, Jennifer admits it was anything but easy.
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but it was amazing to see with a great team, a plan and a lot of hard work, you can do anything,” the former Baltimore Public Schools teacher says.
It was, by and large, a student-led effort. They developed a fundraising plan. They spoke to donors in their communities, making personal pleas over one-on-one conversations and plates full of spaghetti.
Jennifer says the experience not only shifted her students’ perspectives on what’s possible and what lie beyond the boundaries of the city they call home -- it also revealed grit, determination and a previously-untapped potential for leadership.
And while the original goal was to simply cross the Atlantic, Jennifer’s leadership journey, and that of her students, didn’t end in Spain.
Many of Jennifer’s students have continued to grow their leadership -- and that of their peers- at a Baltimore-based nonprofit called The Intersection.
Founded by LEE member Zeke Cohen, the Intersection seeks to “transform students from underserved areas into leaders with the skills to go to and through college, to engage in civic action, and to articulate and solve challenges facing themselves and their communities.”
Aided by LEE’s Advocacy and Organizing Fellowship, Jennifer got involved with The Intersection as well as part of a broader campaign to end gun violence.
“Through the LEE fellowship I got to know what grassroots really meant and how it works and the power of your voice,” Jennifer said. “I fell in love with that and felt inspired to follow my passion to help students graduate and attend college.”
Jennifer’s taken advantage of other opportunities to grow her leadership with LEE, including the Latino Political Leadership Program, or LPLP, which she says was “eye-opening.”
“I was focused on being a teacher and didn’t consider myself a leader, but LPLP opened my eyes,” she says. “There’s such a small percentage of Latinos in [elected] office. Many of us are focused on getting the work done, but not enough of us step up into public office.”
Jennifer had decided to step up, seeking to apply lessons learned from her experience in the classroom, as the daughter of Mexican immigrants and a first-generation college graduate. “My mission is to get the importance of education out to other students and families by sharing how much it’s changed my life,” she says.
While she believes teachers have enormous power to make a difference, Jennifer’s followed her passion for educational equity outside the classroom into advocacy and organizing -- as an American Dream Fellow for the Cisneros Center for New Americans, a nonpartisan organization run by a fellow LEE member, Nicolas Perilla.
It’s not entirely clear where Jennifer’s leadership journey might take her. But wherever it leads, Jennifer plans to make an impact, and perhaps even learn a bit more about what she is capable of doing -- and achieving -- along the way.