December 13, 2021
Joelly Mendoza-Acosta was a freshman at Wilder High School in rural Idaho in 2019 when she met Rachel Bagnall, the Teach for America corps member who changed the course of her life.
Rachel was just starting her two years with TFA as a math teacher, and Joelly was one of her advisees. Though Joelly had long harbored an interest in the medical profession, she didn’t know how to find or pursue opportunities that would set her on the path toward a medical career.
None of her middle school teachers had offered much assistance, but Rachel immediately took an interest in helping Joelly pursue her passion. Today, Joelly is president of her junior class and has enrolled in a two-year Certified Nursing Assistant program at COSSA Academy, a public cooperative school providing career and technical education programs.
From early in her freshman year, Joelly sensed that Rachel was different from many of her other teachers. “Normally a teacher will give you an assignment and if you don't turn it in by a certain time, you just don't get a grade, but Ms. Bagnall was extremely patient with everyone, and if she saw that someone had something going on in their life she just understood, and not all teachers are like that,” Joelly said.
Joelly credits Rachel with making it possible to work on her nursing assistant certificate while simultaneously continuing her high school studies in Wilder. “From the moment I told her I was interested in nursing, she had me trying to get into programs,” Joelly said. Family finances were a barrier, so it wasn’t until this fall that Joelly was finally able to enroll.
Even as Rachel was preparing to move to Virginia with her husband, who is attending medical school, she helped Joelly and her mother, a Mexican immigrant, with the COSSA Academy paperwork. Because she speaks Spanish, Rachel was able to communicate directly with Joelly’s mother, while teachers in previous years had to work through an interpreter, making communication more challenging.
“They were able to get closer because they could talk to each other, and it helped my mother understand a lot better what was going on and what we had to do to get me enrolled,” Joelly said.
Although Rachel has moved across the country, Joelly stays in touch with her, and is confident the relationship will continue long-term. “She is a person that I have a great connection with. With other teachers, it wasn’t the same. She knows my history and she's been there for me through a lot of stuff.”
Joelly dreams someday of being a neonatal nurse. And if she fulfills that dream, she said, she will think back to Rachel Bagnall and credit her with helping make it possible.