FRESNO, Calif. — Jeff Ramirez loves everything about his Hispanic and German heritage, and that especially includes being known as Mr. Ramirez on an Aspen Valley Prep campus that has a majority Latino student population.
Ramirez, in his third year as a fifth-grade teacher at the public charter school in Fresno, California, embraces the diverse mix of students in his classroom and enjoys discovering various ways to connect with each of them throughout the year.
“My favorite part is seeing the difference in the students from the beginning of the year to the end,” Ramirez said. “I had one girl who didn’t talk to me at all at first, but then a few months later she was one of my most talkative students and was always involved in our discussions.”
Billy Calletano Escobar joined Aspen Valley Prep a year ago as a fifth-grader and had Ramirez as his teacher. The two quickly bonded through their similar styles of good-natured humor.
“We’re both goofballs,” Ramirez said.
“I’d say he’s more of a goofball than me,” Billy said, laughing. “He’s really funny and he’s not just a teacher who’s about work, work, work the whole time. We can walk up to him at any time and he’ll make jokes and play around with us. That’s what makes school fun.”
Ramirez, a father of two young boys, takes pride in making school an enjoyable experience for all of his students. Similar to his own background, Ramirez knows each individual student brings their life experiences to his classroom and he wants them to recognize and celebrate what makes them unique.
“I tell them how much I love learning about my family’s history and that helps get them excited to learn more about their own family,” Ramirez said.
‘This is your time to discover who you are’
Ramirez also isn’t afraid to share with his students a difficult moment from his childhood. As a fourth-grade student in Fresno, Ramirez experienced the harshness of discrimination when a classmate bullied him for having a Hispanic last name.
“I was just sitting down and a kid called me a racial slur and kicked me in the mouth because he found out my last name was Ramirez,” he said. “That obviously left a big impression on me as a nine-year-old. When I share that with my students, it can lead to some powerful discussions.”
Ramirez’s goal in speaking about the past is to spark his students’ curiosity about the world around them—and hopefully further their passion for learning.
He also wants them to know how fortunate they are to be at a Summit Learning partner school such as Aspen Valley Prep that makes it a priority to set them up for success in all aspects of their lives.
“I love all my kids and I make sure to tell them that,” Ramirez said. “I tell them, ‘I want you all to succeed and if I get frustrated it’s only because I don’t want you to waste this opportunity. This is your time to discover who you are and who you’re going to be.’”
‘Each of these kids makes it all worth it’
Now a sixth-grader, Billy has taken advantage of Ramirez’s mentorship over the past year to better understand how his time at Aspen Valley Prep can help prepare him for his future. Billy, who sometimes wears a Harvard University sweatshirt at school, isn’t shy about speaking about his lofty career goals.
“I want to become an architect,” Billy said. “I want to work on and design all those big buildings in San Francisco. My dad’s a handyman so he’s been teaching me a lot of stuff. I know how to drill and now I’m helping my dad with drywall and other roofing projects. I love to help him.”
Billy also loves to participate in competitive dirt bike races, enjoys swimming, and is an avid reader of the popular “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” book series. In short, he is an active and vibrant sixth-grader and he can’t wait to explore more interests during his time at Aspen Valley Prep.
“This is the third different school I’ve been to and it’s definitely my favorite,” said Billy, who also enjoys being a helpful big brother to his second-grade brother at AVP. “Everybody here is so nice and always talks to you and asks how you are doing. They all want to help us out and I like that a lot.”
It’s that type of joyful response that boosts Ramirez’s spirits as he makes the one-hour commute to and from school each day.
“I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think it was worth it,” Ramirez said. “I grew up in this area and I love it here. Each of these kids makes it all worth it.”