10 Years at IslandWood: Zenaida Olivas

In August, TAF’s Fellows will return to the Martinez Fellowship’s annual three-day summer retreat where teachers of color receive professional development, community support, and participate in invigorating sessions. For the last 10 years, the retreat has been held at IslandWood, an environmental education center on Brainbridge Island, WA, and has become a tradition that our Fellows to look forward to.

To celebrate, we’re highlighting one Fellow from each of Martinez Fellowship’s ten cohorts.

Meet Zenaida Olivas of Cohort 7, a Special Education Mathematics Teacher at Jane Adams Middle School of Seattle Public Schools.

TAF: What was one win or winning moment this past school year?

Zenaida: Do I even have one? Lol! This year I was in charge of creating and advising the Latinx Student Union at our school. Jane Addams had been opened for 4 years and had not had an opportunity to create a space for Latinx students. We had 18 students join without active recruiting. At first, I had a vision of how this group was going to grow, little did I know how unprepared I was going to be.

Positive influence: attendance, state scores, and school involvement increased for students.

TAF: Why did you want to become a teacher, and why are you still a teacher?

Zenaida: One reason was because of all the negative experiences: bad teachers, policies that perpetuated a broken system for student of color, social issues and the environment that fostered those ideas. It is [for those reasons], in addition to becoming a support for students, so that those experience are fewer, especially for students with high needs.

Another reason is what my father told me: “ You were born with 2 disadvantages: that you are female and a person of color. However, education is an equalizing factor.” I will have to work harder than anybody else but nobody can take away my education. It is a combination of all my experiences and the hope that I might be a positive influence for a student of color that are the reason I still want to be a teacher.


TAF: What do you with the world knew about being a teacher of color?

Zenaida: I feel that what I want people to know, they already have an idea: There is an unspoken “rule” that you can handle students of color better but it’s not true. We might have shared/like experiences that might help to understand each other but that’s not a guarantee.

What is missing from public education today?

Zenaida: The obvious: teachers of color and resources. Also the metric system.

“My father told me, ‘You were born with 2 disadvantages: that you are female and a person of color. However, education is an equalizing factor’.”

TAF’s Martinez Fellowship Program recruits and retains teachers of color in Washington State. In the last year its 151 Fellows impact over 14,000 students by providing representation and creating equitable academic environments.

By 2038, TAF plans to add over 2,400 teachers of color to the fellowship. Learn more about the Martinez Fellowship.

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