Three years ago they were seniors at Reservoir High School, taking math and history tests, writing English essays, eating lunch in the cafeteria and expressing their hopes for college.
This month, 20-year-olds Irma Murhutta, Ricardo Loyola and Moises Zelaya are back at their alma mater.
Only this time they’re at the front of the class, teaching.
“I used to walk in these halls, played on these fields, parked in the parking lot,” Murhutta said. “It’s strange being on the other side.”
For lack of a better word, she said, it’s “weird.”
During their senior year at Reservoir, all three were identified as academically successful students from households below median income levels, and were chosen for a partnership between Howard County schools and McDaniel College — at the time called Teachers for Tomorrow — which was designed to encourage teacher diversity.
They received full scholarships, and in exchange were guaranteed jobs in the county school district for at least three years upon graduation.
While their majors differ, Murhutta, Loyola and Zelaya are each pursuing secondary education as a minor. From Jan. 7 to the end of this week, they have worked as teaching interns at Reservoir High during the school’s junior year winter break, known as “Jan Term.”
Robin Townsend, coordinator of teacher professional development at McDaniel, said being in the classroom for 15 days allows the college students to become a real asset in the classroom, not only assisting the teacher but also growing comfortable in helping students.
Prior to the internship, she said, the trio completed at least one semester where they were assigned to a school for a day a week and shadowed a teacher during that day.
The purpose of the internship is for Murhutta, Loyola and Zelaya to experience a school with 40 percent or higher racial or ethnic diversity, Townsend, said. McDaniel turned to Howard County for help there.
“Obviously all schools look different, and most of the schools where we place our students are in Carroll County [which] does not have a extremely diverse population,” Townsend said.
“We know it’s critical for our students to see what schools are like across the state,” she said.
Back to school
Loyola initially wanted to become a school counselor because he wanted to help students, but soon realized that “as a teacher, I can also do that.”
The sociology major said his time in the classroom has given him a hands-on feel for the career.
Loyola has been working with Lauren Roberts, who teaches American government, 10th-grade honors government and a women’s studies class.
Roberts called the internship is a “win-win.” Not only is Loyola learning what it takes to be a teacher, but the experience has given Roberts a chance to step back and reflect on her own teaching methods.
In her government classes, Loyola has prepared midterm review games, including a “Family Feud” style contest that Roberts said has engaged the students.
“He’s been very welcomed. It’s good for students to see a Reservoir alum,” Roberts said. “It’s helpful when... your own community comes home.”
Loyola said getting used to a diverse classroom setting will be helpful in the long to “understand there is more than just the perfect student.”
“I really like how bright the students are, no matter their situation … they are all putting in effort,” Loyola said.
As a business administration major, Zelaya wants students to understand financial literacy, such as how to file taxes and what a W-2 form is. But he also wants to understand and get to know students.
“The biggest thing I’ve learned from this particular position is to enjoy a child’s personality,” Zelaya said. “You have different students and they… have their own personality.”
Zelaya, who is pursuing a business certification, came to Reservoir hoping to give advice to students and guide them in what to expect after high school.
For the past three weeks, he’s has been shadowing Debra Dear, a business education teacher at Reservoir. The pairing brought back familiar faces; Zelaya is one of Dear’s former students.
Zelaya helped grade assignments but also planned his own class activities and tested them out on students.
“It’s been amazing,” Dear said. “The kids all call him ‘Mr. Z,’ they have really embraced him.”
Class in session
Murhutta said she never grew up thinking she would be a teacher but now she has come to love it.
“It’s so exciting” she said with a smile. “I’ve learned to love the trade.”
She said she has learned tricks of the trade from Matthew Valvano, who teaches English at Reservoir, and wants to encourage students to think freely.
“English is often deemed as a class that is mandatory …it’s important to prepare students for what they will see in college and the real world,” Murhutta said.
She was looking forward to being in front of the classroom and becoming more comfortable doing that.
Valvano said that’s critical. He said observing a classroom is not how someone learns how to be a teacher. They have to “get in the trenches,” communicating and engaging with students.
This time next year, the three students will be full-time student teachers as they complete their final semester of college. Murhutta and Loyola have been given their placements — they will both be assigned to Marriotts Ridge High School.
Zelaya has not yet received his placement.
McDaniel’s secondary education minor is for students who aspire to teach at the middle or high school levels, according to Townsend. The college has an elementary education major.
Murhutta said the scholarship opportunity is more than just an aide in college. “It’s a career builder because we are guaranteed a three-year job in Howard County, which can turn into a career,” she said.
“The opportunity we have been given has been such a blessing in all of our lives.”