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Sunrise in Louisiana

Rise and Shine

Halfway through her first year of teaching in rural East Feliciana Parish, Jazmin Reyes is getting used to her pre-dawn routine.

January 12, 2018

Paula Ann Solis

It’s an ordinary morning for third grade teacher Jazmin Reyes (S. Louisiana ’17) during an extraordinary time of life.

She’s days away from her first winter break since joining the 28th class of corps members in South Louisiana (one of six Teach For America charter regions). She has taught for exactly 81 days—long enough to know that it’s the hardest work she’s ever done. But with each 15-hour day (until bedtime at 8 p.m.) she loves her students more wholly. One Day followed this first-year teacher on one ordinary extraordinary morning.

5 a.m. Reyes puts on her makeup, pausing to eat small bites from a grapefruit to fight off a head cold. Her feet tap to the music pulsing from her iPhone as she prepares for the day ahead.

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

As 6 a.m. nears, Reyes darts around her one-bedroom apartment flipping off the lights and heat. She looks over a stack of vocabulary tests for her third grade English language arts class, printed the night before at the Teach For America office.

Jazmin Reyes in Car

Just after 6 a.m., Reyes begins her 40-minute commute north along Louisiana Highway 68, tracing the Mississippi River into rural East Feliciana Parish. A train rattles past in the distance, but she’s nearly alone on the road as she anticipates the sunrise over the delta.

Every morning, Reyes listens to the Rickey Smiley Morning Show on the radio. It keeps her mind off of how much money she spends on gasoline. But thoughts linger of her students and their progress. She worries she’s not getting good enough fast enough. “I thought I would be the best teacher ever,” she says with a laugh.

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

6:20 a.m. Reyes passes farm fields, a concrete mill, and a handful of small country churches on the way into Jackson, a town of about 3,500 people just south of the Mississippi border. A white wooden fence marking the grounds of the Dixon Correctional Institute, home to about 1,800 inmates, reminds her that she’s about three minutes away from school.

Jazmin Reyes

Jackson Elementary serves about 300 students, 95 percent of whom come from low-income households. Principal Megan Phillips (S. Louisiana ’01) started her career at Jackson as a third grade teacher, like Reyes. In all, eight alumni and two corps members work at Jackson. “This school is the center of the community,” Phillips says.

Jazmin Reyes in classroom

7 a.m. Before the school day starts, Reyes’s students eat waffles dripping with syrup and tug at each other’s winter coats, worn for the first cold day of the school year. She compliments the coats’ bright colors and remembers colder, snowy winter days in her hometown of Bridgeport, Connecticut. 

7:15 a.m. Reyes prepares her classroom for the day ahead. Students will learn the differences between persuasive and informative texts. They’ll earn points toward a popcorn party for listening well to others and helping out around the classroom. Later, she’ll jokingly tell the class she’s giving herself a few points today, too, for persisting despite her cold. “The kids know that I’m showing up for them,” she says.

Photographs by Collin Richie.

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