When she was studying economics at Barnard, Merody Mejia envisioned herself working in the financial sector. She loved math and numbers, and she thought that she could launch a lucrative career. But she wasn’t sure that it would make her happy.
She started thinking about the jobs that she’d had in her life: In high school, she worked in an after-school program, and in college she had been a babysitter and a volunteer with a program that helped high school students prepare for their college experience. She realized that her real passion was in working with youth.
“I realized that every job I had involved working with kids,” she said. “It seemed to be calling me back. I decided that, whatever I did next, I would need to be working with kids in some capacity. There’s just nothing like it. They bring so much light and laughter into your life.”
When she graduated, she found a job as a director for a Kaplan tutoring center, which balanced both of her passions. She then transitioned to working for New York City’s Sports & Arts in Schools foundation before joining Children’s Aid as a program director at P.S. 152 in 2012.
At P.S. 152, Merody managed the after-school and adult programming, and she ran the summer camp. Then, in 2015, after former Mayor Bill de Blasio expanded the community schools initiative in New York, Merody moved to Paul Dunbar Middle School in the Bronx. It was right around the corner from where she grew up and went to school.
“My life really came full circle when I came to work here,” she said. “I came back to my old stomping ground.”
For Merody, whose parents both immigrated from the Dominican Republic before she was born, returning to work so close to home reminded her of the many people who helped pave the way for her career in education.
“My mom is such a strong woman,” she said. “There was a language barrier because she only spoke Spanish, but she still advocated for me and my two sisters. She would bring someone with her to translate if she needed to. That advocacy that she had for us – she instilled that in me. I’m really big on helping those who don’t have a voice or who aren’t sure how to articulate for themselves.”
When she works with students now, Merody tries to remember the impact that one of her favorite teachers, Ms. Williams, had on her.
“She motivated us,” Merody said. “She made sure that we persevered and didn’t give up. She would stay after school and help us, and she encouraged the students to help one another. She really did a great job of creating a community within the classroom.”
For Merody, one of the most vital roles she fills now is that of a role model.
“It’s really important in the current climate and culture that our young kids have role models that they can look up to,” she said. “Especially middle schoolers because that’s such a critical age. Kids need help to overcome challenges, they need someone to be a sounding board. I’ve been lucky enough to have strong female mentors in my life, and I try to set that example now with my students.”
As the community school director, Merody works to provide holistic solutions for her students. The Children’s Aid model recognizes that children need to be cared for and considered as whole people in order to have success in the classroom, and it aims to surround students with resources from within their communities.
“It’s sometimes hard to describe what I do because it’s so much,” Merody said. “There are days when I’m a social worker, days when I’m a counselor, days when I’m an event planner. I have the opportunity to explore a lot of the skills and talents I have because every day is different. That’s what I love about it.”