Mariah DeJesus travels two hours each way to perform her job as a lead teacher for the 4-year-olds who attend P.S. 5 in Washington Heights.
Though she lives on Staten Island, her love for her students, her colleagues, and her work motivate her to make the commute. Mariah has only been teaching for two years, but her desire to work with children started long ago.
As a high school student, she volunteered for an organization called Families Helping Families NYC, which provides guidance and resources to families with children with special needs. The staff their encouraged her to pursue a career in education.
“The founder of the organization had always told me, ‘Why don’t you go into special education teaching?’” she said. “That wasn’t rally on my radar. I knew I wanted to work with children, I just didn’t know in what capacity.”
As she witnessed the level of commitment from the community – teachers, advocates, parents – and how the work led to better outcomes for the children she worked with, Mariah realized teaching was for her.
She enrolled at Baruch College as an undergraduate and became a peer mentor for her fellow college students, where she provided academic and personal support.
“That’s when I realized I wanted to pursue [teaching] more, that I wanted to do it full time after college,” Mariah said.
After graduating in 2020, Mariah became a Teach for America corps member. That’s when she met Margot Sigmone, the deputy director for early childhood programs at Children’s Aid. She decided to accept a teaching position at our Frederick Douglass Early Childhood Center on the Upper West Side.
She then transferred to our P.S. 5 location, where she now works with teachers Yudelka Collado and Yudy Alvarez to get students ready for kindergarten. There are two main concepts that Mariah and her team focus on with this age level. These skills are crucial for children to master so they can retain important information in class and be successful in elementary school and beyond.
“Self-regulation and communication – those two concepts are really important to set the ground work to learn other things,” she said. “In order to fully delve into class, they have to be able to not only understand themselves and their emotions, but be able to understand their friends and peers.”
Mariah will receive her master’s degree in education this year and is excited to continue fostering strong relationships with students and families at P.S. 5.
“My first thought is how can I help them and the families,” she said. “You see the growth from the time that you started the year to now. The parents are surprised how they know so much. They take in so much. I have students from my last center that are in kindergarten at P.S. 5, and they recognize me. I still have those relationships with them even though I might not be their teacher anymore.”