PHARR, Texas (ValleyCentral) — A teacher with a passion to empower women is being recognized for her efforts by one of her own students at PSJA Sonia M. Sotomayor Pathways to Technology High School.
Teshawn Leslie is a dual enrollment teacher at P-TECH, a special purpose campus that caters to girls 13 through 21 years old who are pregnant or have already had their babies. Leslie was awarded a $5,000 prize from a national organization called Honored, dedicated to keeping great teachers in the classroom and inspiring a new generation of talent to pursue teaching.
The seasoned teacher from Houston was nominated for the prize by 18-year-old Alyssa Mendez, a teen mom who like many was scared when she first learned she was pregnant
Mendez entered the high school program when she was five months along in her pregnancy and attributes a great deal of her success in the program to “Ms. Leslie.”
“This is a program where our girls who are moms can feel safe, and not get judged, because they get judged a lot in society, and they get cast aside because they got pregnant,” Leslie said.
Leslie is no stranger to teaching the “tough crowd” and vows that the campus is not a dumping ground, but rather a rehabilitation for students to get the resources they need to be successful after pregnancy.
The school says it is the only one in Texas of its kind and has open enrollment for girls from all across the state. At P-TECH, moms can get their high school diploma, college certificate and even an industry certificate.
With a built-in daycare for babies up to five weeks old, moms do not have to worry about childcare while getting their education. With the help of local organizations and non-profits, the campus is able to provide diapers, baby food and baby clothes to teen moms.
Mendez’s four-month-old son Ezekiel, stays at the early Head Start program on campus which gives her peace of mind knowing that her baby is close by and cared for.
“I think becoming pregnant is not a bad thing,” Mendez said. “I think everything happens for a reason. So, I just accepted it. And I mean, look how far it brought me. I never thought I would be in this position.”
While she was pregnant Mendez was taking Leslie’s college course; and while she said it was not easy, she got it done with a little help from her favorite teacher. Every day, Leslie has her girls recite a quote that states, “Let your baby be your reason and not your excuse.”
Mendez said this motivated her not to give up on her dreams of becoming a surgical technician, and now she is graduating with a CNA certificate. She credits all her success to “Ms. Lesslie” for helping her find her way after pregnancy and went as far as to nominate her for this $5,000 prize.
Leslie was in the dark about the entire process and said it is surreal that she was nominated by one of her own students and won.
When asked why she nominated Leslie, Mendez replied, “Because she’s an awesome teacher. It doesn’t matter where you are, where you came from, like, she doesn’t judge. She’ll make you feel like, it’s OK. … She makes us feel comfortable that we could talk about our stories or what we’ve been through.”
Though she admits it is not an easy feat, Leslie throws herself into her work by dedicating time to getting to know every student’s background and why they are in the program.
“It’s a special purpose [campus], for a reason,” she said. “Ninety percent of the girls that end up here are coming more than likely from a broken home, they’ve been through a lot of things that your typical kid would not have gone through. Whether it was domestic violence, or verbal abuse, or molestation, or rape, we’ve seen it all.”
Leslie said she aims to heal the girls and help them transform into confident professionals.
She said she uses the first week of school to immerse herself in her student’s shoes, which typically results in plenty of tears and a bond of trust.
“It doesn’t matter if you teach at a special purpose, or just a regular campus or private school or public school or charter school, we really have to immerse ourselves in student’s shoes as educators,” Leslie said. “And yes, it’s work. But if you want to capture every single one of them, you really truly need to get to know your student.”