Luis Guerrero-Reyes ’22 Inspires His High School Students With Wisdom Wall on Tour of SBU

Luis Guerrero-Reyes ’22, a Spanish teacher at the Urban Assembly Gateway School for Technology in New York City, had a full-circle moment when he brought his high school students to Stony Brook University for a college visit. The students took a tour of the Career Center and were excited to discover the Alumni Words of Wisdom Wall, which features an inspirational quote from their own teacher.

Luis Guerrero-Reyes on his graduation day in May 2022.
Luis Guerrero-Reyes on his graduation day in May 2022.

Guerrero-Reyes earned his BA in Spanish language and literature and an MA in secondary education and teaching from Stony Brook. When he wasn’t taking classes, he served as a mentor for other students, as well as a member of the dean’s advisory committee and a teaching assistant for the Department of Hispanic Languages and Literature. The alumnus believes the skills he learned in those programs prepared him to become a teacher.

He is now enrolled in Stony Brook’s first cohort of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Educational Leadership (EDL) Program. The post-master’s graduate certificate program prepares educators of underrepresented groups for advancement into leadership positions within school buildings and districts with the goal of growing the representation of leaders of diverse backgrounds in schools. Upon graduation, Guerrero-Reyes will continue his educational journey at Manhattanville College or Penn State, where he has been admitted.

What was it like bringing your students to the Stony Brook campus?

It was such a fulfilling and motivating experience. The school where I teach is very tech-focused, so I knew they’d be interested in learning more about Stony Brook and its different areas of study and programs. We toured the library, the Career Center and the dining hall. An Urban Assembly Gateway alumna attends Stony Brook, and she spoke with the students as well. I think the visit inspired them, especially when they saw my picture on the Alumni Words of Wisdom Wall. I always try to make a personal connection with my students and relate to them in some way. And this was the perfect opportunity to do that.

We’re really trying to push college readiness at our high school. We aim for all first-year students to visit at least one college by the end of their first year, sophomores to visit at least two colleges, etc. It was an honor to introduce my students to Stony Brook and observe their reactions to seeing a college campus for the first time, for many of them.

What made you want to become a teacher?

As an immigrant from El Salvador, I’ve always wanted to make an impact, especially around people who look like me and have gone through struggles similar to mine. In high school, I had a Spanish teacher who was Hispanic. She taught us about her experiences growing up and her opportunities to live out the American dream. She inspired me to provide that experience for others, which sparked my idea to serve through the field of education. This teacher, along with my mother, always instilled in me the fact that work ethic is crucial in achieving success, not only personal but also community success, in a country that we may not be native to but that continues to grow into a nation that welcomes all.

Luis Guerrero-Reyes with his team at the Urban Assembly Gateway School for Technology in New York City.
Luis Guerrero-Reyes with his cohort in the EDL Program.

What do you find most rewarding about teaching? Has there been any moment that you are most proud of?

Again, the most rewarding part is connecting with the students and seeing that change in them, from when they look at you as a stranger to when they see you as trustworthy. They know we may have had similar experiences as immigrants or, for many of my students, children of immigrants — learning a new language and starting from scratch as first-generation college students. They know I understand what they’re going through, and they can talk to me about any issues or situations they’re experiencing. Knowing that they trust me to support them makes me extremely proud of the work that I do daily. Now, some of the first students I taught are juniors beginning their college applications, and they know they can come to me for help navigating that process.

My most proud moment occurred during my first year of teaching as the coordinator of an after-school work program where students who needed financial assistance would hold jobs at the school. I instantly connected with one of the students in the program, Mario, a senior from Honduras. I immediately knew he had a strong work ethic since he was always one of the first ones in the building and the last to leave. One day, Mario stopped showing up for class and his job. I reached out, and he told me his mother was hospitalized, and he needed to drop out of school and work full time to support his family. I explained to him that graduating from high school was crucial, so I contacted his teachers and helped him with his assignments at night. And even though he wasn’t able to graduate that June, we continued to work together to ensure that he earned enough credits to graduate in August. It was such a powerful moment when Mario showed his mother his high school diploma. It was then that I truly knew I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing: making an impact on the future generation and giving students the most powerful tool, which is education.

How did Stony Brook prepare you for a teaching career?

I had the best professors at Stony Brook, specifically in the Department of Languages and Cultural Studies. They truly got to know their students personally, which surprised me at first as it was something I did not experience during most of my educational journey. Sarah Jourdain, Madeline Turan, Lilia Ruiz Debbe, Lori Repetti and Victoriano Roncero-Lopez were outstanding professors and fantastic mentors. And the most essential thing I took away from Stony Brook is that connections are everything. If I cannot connect with my students in some way, it will be more difficult to open doors to their learning. Understanding where students come from, as well as their diverse viewpoints and backgrounds, is important. Although this is something I always grew up practicing, Stony Brook reinforced it and made me realize that leading from the heart is an important component of working in the field of education. I truly value and appreciate it as a teacher in New York City. Additionally, I believe that these skills prepared me for the roles I hold outside of my teaching role at UAG. I have been honored to be a part of the amazing group of educators at the Puerto Rican Hispanic Youth Leadership Institute as a trainer through New York City Public Schools as well as the GenConnect program. Through these programs, I’ve been able to lead work around advocacy and educating students on the bills and laws that impact Hispanic communities throughout the U.S. I have also held workshops on NYC Department of Education resources for immigrant families, education, language, financial literacy and careers to provide young leaders and their families the opportunity to learn and establish themselves in their new country. Due to the diverse Stony Brook Education requirements that the university asks students to complete, I was able to gain knowledge in linguistics, law and politics, which prepared me for these roles in supporting these families.

Luis Guerrero-Reyes and friends on his graduation day in May 2022.
Luis Guerrero-Reyes and friends on his graduation day in May 2022.

What was your time like at Stony Brook?

Stony Brook was an amazing experience for me. In addition to my mentors, my classmates and I formed a small community, which gave me a sense of belonging during my time at the university. I served on the Dean’s Student Advisory Committee for the College of Arts and Sciences, which allowed me to cultivate my leadership skills. I was also part of the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) mentor program, where I first learned to connect with other students in similar situations and to help guide them through their college experience as first-generation college students. I also served as a TA for Spanish classes designed for undergraduate students, which gave me the hands-on experiences I later applied to the role I hold now.

What is your experience like with the EDL program? What are your future aspirations once you complete that program?

Professor Turan actually encouraged me to apply to the program. What’s great is that we all progress as a community through our courses, summer institute and internship. My cohort is filled with teachers, union leaders and social workers, so we have diverse leadership perspectives. We have all been supportive of each other and are always lifting each other up, which is something you need in leadership. We can look at things through different lenses that we might not have considered before. The summer equity leadership program also provided an excellent opportunity to apply what I learned to my current role as a teacher leader at UA Gateway, from conducting a Spanish curriculum audit to being more inclusive of our students’ experiences and developing lessons that give everyone an entry point to implementing more restorative justice practices across our school community, but, more importantly, working toward a more equitable approach to education in which all students can succeed. Luckily, to do all this work, I have two inspirational leaders who support me in all my endeavors. Ms. Kristina Dvorakovskaya, the principal of UA Gateway, has been an ally, mentor and sponsor for all the projects I have involved myself in. My assistant principal, Ms. Rachana Patel, was able to attend the summer leadership institute with me, and we were able to be thought partners to really think about the work that needs to be done in order to continue to improve and demonstrate what public education looks like. Needless to say, I could not do this with only my school community support. I am lucky I can always count on my mother and partner to be there during difficult moments that come with this necessary work. I am proud to be part of a great community of staff, parents and students and represent Stony Brook.

I like to dream big and am committed to work, advocate and fight for what I believe in.

All the leadership skills I gained at Stony Brook and what I’m gaining now in the EDL program allow me to consider the bigger picture and what I want to accomplish next. The dreams I was once not able to have in El Salvador, due to the state of the country then, I am now able to multiply due to the opportunities I’m given in the U.S. The belief that all students no matter their background should have access to a high-quality academic experience and learn to be active members of communities drives my work. After completing the program, I’d like to continue and finish my doctoral degree at one of the institutions I’ve been accepted to. My ultimate goal is to gain experience through different leadership roles and eventually become the founding principal of a school for bilingual students to create access for newly arrived students to an educational experience that goes beyond academics and centers on the human aspect of learning.

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