Interview with Jessica Raygoza

We recently sat down (virtually, of course), with Jessica Raygoza, Synergy’s learning specialist. We have known and loved Jessica ever since we joined the Synergy community 2 years ago, when she started working with our daughter, Maya. Maya has epilepsy, and it was very important for us to find a school community that embraces learning differences, and accommodates different learning styles. Synergy definitely fits the bill, and Jessica’s passion for helping kids feel a sense of belonging and thrive is inspiring.

How did you come to do what you do today?

J: I moved to San Francisco in 2007 and realized I wanted to get into literacy so I started volunteering at the Main Library helping adults to learn how to read and write. I realized that being able to help people in a non-judgmental atmosphere was something I really enjoyed providing. Being able to see someone’s independence and confidence grow due to their progress in reading and writing motivated me to acquire more training and education around the foundations of literacy. I then worked in the Tenderloin at a community center providing a literacy program to low-income families in the neighborhood which is when I discovered my love for working with children! I eventually was trained in the Lindamood-Bell remediation programs and worked at the Literacy and Language Center in the Sunset for 6 years as a case manager and tutor. I learned the importance of creating an education plan that was tailored to the individual needs of each student, and most importantly, how to make our sessions fun while still targeting their learning goals. 

What does diversity and inclusion personally mean to you as an educator?

J: Diversity and inclusion as an educator means that we celebrate our differences and that we learn from our students and their families as much as they learn from us as educators. As someone who works closely one to one with students, I get to really come to appreciate neurodiversity and how every mind is unique and operates a little differently from one another. It’s important that every student that I come in contact with feels valued, challenged and encouraged. My job is to make sure that student needs are being met in an equitable way at school by promoting the idea that there is no one size fits all curriculum or way of learning. 

How do you as an educator promote the themes of inclusivity in your curriculum/teaching style?

J: I get to collaborate with all of the teachers at Synergy on how to make their curriculum and learning environment more equitable for all learners. Sometimes this means changing up the seating arrangements, adding fidgets, providing audio versions and being creative at all times to make sure a student learns best and feels successful.When I approach a teacher about a specific student’s accommodations, they are happy to make these changes for the whole class so that the student doesn’t have to feel like it’s only them. It’s important to look at a student individually and come up with their own unique goals based on their strengths and areas of weakness. 

Do you weave social justice themes into your curriculum? If so, how?

J: Absolutely. The population that I work with are used to working extra hard due to their learning differences and I try to introduce a variety of people who faced adversity in different ways, during different times, and how they overcame it all by advocating and believing in themselves and going against the grain. Fighting for social justice is hard work that must constantly be challenged, questioned and re-examined so that we can continue to make positive changes. I apply the same idea to the students that I work with. Empowering students to use their voice starts with building their confidence in foundational areas.

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