Teachers Talk Back: Jessyka Ramirez-Holden
Jessyka Ramirez-Holden is in her fifth year as an educator and is currently teaching sixth-grade English and social studies at New Los Angeles Charter School. Jessyka is an E4E School Team Leader and 2014 Teacher Policy Team member alumna. In May, Jessyka and her sixth-grade team took their students on a field trip to Temescal Canyon. In this piece, she celebrates National Parks and Recreation Month by speaking to E4E-LA Outreach Director Jen Baca about the importance of exposing our students to the outdoors and how to tie curriculum into the experience.
Jen Baca (JB): Why did you become a teacher?
Jessyka Ramirez-Holden (JRH): I became a teacher because I believe every child can succeed and will change the world. During my service year with City Year in East Los Angeles, I saw too many kids who did not believe they could succeed. I decided that I had the passion and drive to show students that they matter and will make a difference.
JB: Your school recently took all of your middle school students on field trips to historic California outdoor locations. Why is it important for our students to experience the great outdoors early?
JRH: A lot of our students have never experienced any other place outside of Mid-City LA. This outdoor trip exposes our students to new adventures and really teaches them the value of teamwork as they rely on each other to get through some obstacles.
JB: How did you prepare yourself and your students for this experience?
JRH: I created a safe environment in the classroom so they would feel comfortable going on the trip. I did this by incorporating team building at the beginning of the year and always referring back to our classroom agreements. It was very important to me to ensure that my students felt welcome and included in our classroom. This helped prepare them for our outdoor education fieldtrip, as we had to trust each other during our adventures. Also, in science class, they studied different biomes so they could understand what adventure we were stepping into when we arrived at Temescal Canyon, a large park near the Pacific Ocean.
JB: How are you able to tie these experiences into your curriculum and instruction?
JRH: I used our experiences from this trip to build more community into our classroom. Students are closer as a result of this trip. They learned to work together and how much they need one another. Since we returned, I have used our shared experiences to strengthen class discussions and partner and group work. It has also connected to my ancient civilizations unit because the first civilizations had to survive by relying on each other.
JB: Did anything surprise you about your trip with your students?
JRH: I was incredibly proud of how my students pushed each other, cheered each other on and just helped one another, especially on our toughest hikes. I was pleasantly surprised to see how brave my students were, exploring the outdoors, in many cases, for the first time.
JB: What was your favorite moment from your field trip to Temescal Canyon with your students?
JRH: My favorite moment from our field trip was at the very end when students had to say what they learned from our time together. The students were not allowed to have any technology on the trip and although they complained, one student said, "I learned that I can have fun without technology and I don't need it." So many of our students today rely so much on technology, so for him to realize that was awesome!
JB: What advice do you have for other teachers interested in taking their students into the great outdoors?
JRH: DO IT! Find the means to take your students outdoors. It is a rewarding and truly beneficial trip for students and teachers. I learned so much about my students and myself. It is a great way to expose your students to something new and tie it back to the classroom.
JB: You recently invited E4E into your school to meet your colleagues. Why?
JRH: I think it's important for my colleagues to understand that their voice matters and we are only as strong as our numbers. We need more teachers advocating for our students and using our skill set to make positive policy change.