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Alumni Testimonials

Graduate Natalie Bernabe

Natalie Bernabe, Pre-K Teacher

I recently graduated from QC as an English major. Not with a concentration or a secondary major or even a focus. Just a BA in English. I considered getting a secondary major in Education, but I didn’t want to stay in school longer than I needed to. A degree is a degree, right? I was sure doors would swing wide open once I graduated. That sheet of paper was a testament to the grueling hours of studying, of multiple sleepless nights and eating ramen noodles for days on end. A sheet of paper my dog ended up ripping to shreds, but not before I presented it to the director of a Preschool, where I am currently teaching Pre-K.

I love English as a subject, and I’ve always loved books and writing- it’s my favorite subject. However, I’ve dabbled in various creative fields: photography, photoshop, costume play, and traditional art. Back in High School I was in the portfolio art program and that was the start of my countless unfinished projects, side interests and hobbies. I’m not exactly talentless but I’m glad I didn’t try to convince my mom that an out-of-state art college was necessary for my future. I knew I had to go to college, and I chose Queens College honestly for how close it was to my house.

Even though my high school was right next to Queensborough Community College, I refused to apply there. I do regret not going to QCC first, as I would have at least had an Associate degree before my Bachelor’s. I definitely recommend getting a liberal arts or any Associate degree from somewhere like QCC (or any community college) if you don’t know what you want to do. It’s better than wasting money trying to figure things out or burning through FASFA and especially TAP. They don’t tell you that it runs out–not after 4 full years but roughly 6-8 semesters. The Pell Grant is what pays for the majority of tuition, but TAP is what helps out with the excess tuition, books, transportation, and food. I really squandered that money in my early years in QC.

I also recommend applying for internships. I had a great experience with CUNY Service Corps, even if the pay wasn’t amazing. They had a job fair where you could apply for the specific company or job site you wanted to work for. I went with CAT, short for Creative Arts Team, an office that focused on their non-profit after-school program that utilized drama teachers to promote literacy. I was a glorified secretary/extra hand. I would help the various departments with filing or cleaning or data entry. My favorite part of the internship was when I had the chance to observe the after school program in person, and CAT had one set up in my former middle school. It was inspiring to see how these students’ test scores had improved, as well as their literacy level. It gave me a glimpse into how the arts can be used to benefit reading and writing skills and comprehension.

The woman I worked under during my internship moved on to accept a position as site director for the company Manhattan Youth. She worked at a Manhattan middle school and offered me a job as an After School Teaching Assistant. I said yes right away. After half a year, I took time off of school. I felt as though I found something worthwhile, and I was burnt out doing both full time. I loved working there; I stayed at that school for almost 3 years. The kids were wonderfu,l and I worked alongside some of the most talented and passionate people I’ve ever met. In the midst of working there, my site director left and things started to fall apart. The company wanted us to reapply if we wanted to continue being employed with them, and they wouldn’t be able to guarantee the school or even the borough we wanted. It was just really heartbreaking, to be honest. I loved that school and it hurt knowing I wouldn’t see any of the kids after they graduated. I had already started to lead classes for both Photography 101 and Comic Book Writing, and I had hoped to continue teaching them. That was my first experience writing lesson plans and I had already written them out for the last half of the year. So, needless to say I decided to finish school. I wasn’t going to stay with Manhattan Youth after that.

I don’t regret my deferment, but it didn’t exactly make for a smooth transition back to college. A shout-out to Professor Tougaw, who was such a valuable source of information, guidance and insight. His classes reminded of why I fell in love with English in the first place. The subject is so multidimensional and multifaceted, that even something as physically stimulating as music can be explored through writing. I’m known as someone who is ‘musically illiterate’ so his Writing About Music class was eye and ear opening. I am thankful I got to take his class before I graduated.

I applied to any and all job openings looking for a teaching assistant or teaching artist. The majority offered starting pay lower than the minimum wage but would ask for no less than a Bachelor’s degree. One school asked me if I knew how to operate a snowmobile, or else I’d have to shovel snow in the winter months. I knew I wanted to stay in the field of education, but I was seeing mostly dead-ends instead of potential jobs. I found Preschool of America on Linked-In and decided to apply. When I went in for the interview, the Director asked me whether I’d be willing to lead a room, as I’d applied for a Teaching Assistant position. One of the teachers was leaving, and her room was going to be available. I said yes.

I’ve been in the school for the past half year, and it’s been a series of highs and lows. I’ve seen these kids grow in ways I’ve never imagined, and I’ve had to write detailed lesson plans and come up with new and inventive ways to engage the students through stories, plays, artwork, crafts and more. Seeing them start to write out their own name is amazing, and it’s fulfilling to see their growth, academically and physically. The company is in the process of changing hands, and my school is now known by a different name. My Director is also leaving, and I can’t help but feel a sense of déjà vu. I’ve had to work throughout the summer, and I am considering returning to school for my Master’s so I can become a public school teacher. My initial goal was to set up my own after-school program, but with the Trump Administration cutting funding to most of the arts, I don’t think it’s possible in the near future.

I apologize for writing a bit of my life story in this testimonial. I felt that in order to relay what I’ve been able to utilize in my current position as a Pre-K teacher, I had to reflect on my academic career. I’m the first in my family to graduate college, and that’s an accomplishment in itself, yet at times I still feel stuck. I feel like I’m not doing enough or I should be doing better for myself, and I think that’s normal. I’m in no way stable right now, but I like to think I will be. The point is even after graduation you might not fall into your life plan or a steady and stable job and that’s okay. Small deviations off your path doesn’t mean you won’t get to your destination. It’s about the journey, right?

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