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Students & Communities

A Parent’s Lifelong Friendship with Our Teachers

From the start of her educational journey, Wendy Navarro’s daughter has been taught by Teach For America corps members and alumni. Learn about the enduring bond between Wendy and several of our teachers, and what advice she has for new educators.

March 25, 2019

Wendy Navarro knows she has an incredible daughter. Alexandra is a seventh grader at Rowe Elementary, and is a true Renaissance student. She wants to focus on science classes in high school so she can become a marine biologist, but is also an avid reader and lover of all things artistic, which her mom encourages. “I’m a dancer, and I always tell her, ‘You can be a marine biologist who knows how to dance, who knows how to write poetry!’” Wendy says.

Wendy has always championed the importance of education, and she knows that Alexandra would not be who she is today without an incredible community of teachers, several of whom are Teach For America alumni. Alexandra had her first two Teach For America teachers when she was in pre-school. First she was taught by Jesse Ilhardt (Chicago-Northwest Indiana, ‘08), who is now the co-founder of the early childhood education nonprofit VOCEL. Wendy has very warm memories of Jesse, saying she gave Alexandra a strong foundation, teaching her, “how to be in school, how to learn from a teacher and be in a classroom.”

When Alexandra had pneumonia and was out of school for two weeks, Jesse visited her in the hospital, bringing a video she recorded of all of Alexandra’s friends telling her to get well. “That was amazing, to do that, I thought, ‘I will love you forever,’ and I know she loves us also,” Wendy says. Alexandra ended up being the flower girl in Jesse’s wedding, and to this day Jesse still visits, sharing programs and opportunities she thinks would help Alexandra grow. The same is true for Kate San Juan (Chicago-Northwest Indiana, ‘09), Alexandra’s second Teach For America teacher, who recognized Alexandra’s potential from a young age. “Kate always says Alexandra’s going to be the first Latina president of the United States,” Wendy says. “She knows Alexandra’s a leader.”

Wendy believes deeply in building relationships. This is not only why she has strong connections to Jesse and Kate, but also why she currently works in the main office at Rowe, a school that has over a dozen Teach For America teachers in the building, and is led alumni principal Tony Sutton.

“Rowe is all about pride, honor and success. They want their teachers to always know that they can create change. It’s a strong place for a kid to grow.”

Wendy Navarro

Wendy also wanted to work at Rowe because of the incredible respect she has for teachers. “I’m a true believer that whoever is helping me to educate my daughter, I’m 100% with them,” she says. When she reflects on what advice she’d give to new teachers looking to connect with parents, she has one simple word: listen. “When you listen to the parent you will learn what kind of a child you’ll have in your classroom. You don’t need to connect on the first time, but just listen. Communication is so important.”

Looking ahead, Wendy is excited to see what comes next for her daughter. She believes Alexandra would make a fantastic teacher herself, and that she has some excellent role models if she decides to enter the profession. But more than anything, Wendy just wants Alexandra to be happy. “I want her to be comfortable with who she is, and to feel good about what she’s giving to the world.”