Virginia Lopez had an epiphany in the third grade.
Ms. Rivera, her third-grade teacher at P.S. 98 in Washington Heights, would spark her interest in teaching and inform her career.
“I thought, ‘Wow, I want to do this. I want to be like her,” Virginia said. “She cared not only about teaching but also cared about how we felt as children. She loved families. She always communicated with parents. I would go home and I remember playing teacher and pretending I was her. That’s how it all began.”
Virginia, who was born and raised in Washington Heights, is now a lead teacher at P.S. 5, where she educates the Terrific Two’s room. She’s been working at the school since 2015, when she started off as a substitute teacher. She was also a teaching assistant and a teacher’s aide, and she filled in for lead teachers.
“I’ve done basically every teaching job at P.S. 5,” she said.
Virginia has also been balancing her own education with her full-time job. She completed her associate’s degree in 2020 and is attending Touro College to obtain a bachelor’s degree in psychology and education.
“I feel like Children’s Aid has been so flexible with my time in terms of getting my education,” she said. “I can actually enjoy my schoolwork, as well as teaching children.”
This is the first year that Virginia is in the 2-year-old classroom, and she works to create a strong foundation so her students can successfully move to the next class.
“These kids are amazing,” she said. “In the beginning, they’re not as verbal. I’ve seen from September through May, the expansion of vocabulary they have now. They repeat everything you say. They get things very quickly. They’re very easy to teach and fun.”
Working at P.S. 5 in Washington Heights is especially meaningful for Virginia because she gets to shape the minds of young people in her community. When she attended public school in the 1970s, she didn’t always have access to the robust resources that Children’s Aid community schools provide.
“We didn’t have the programs that we do,” she said. “I feel like I’m giving back to my community, the Dyckman community, and it just feels amazing. I’m helping, giving a hand, and educating not only our children, but also our parents as well. I feel blessed that I’m teaching in the community where I was born and raised.”