Fairfield Student Recognized as State’s Top Rising Teacher
Chastity Berrios Hernandez ’17 knew she wanted to be a teacher from a young age. Chastity was born and raised in Puerto Rico until moving to New Haven, Conn. with her family when she was nine years old. Growing up, she used to set up small desks, chairs, and a chalkboard and pretend she was teaching at the front of a classroom in her living room in Puerto Rico.
Fast forward 12 years, and Chastity has been named the 2017 Alma Exley Scholar for her pursuit as an urban educator in Connecticut. The scholarship, which is awarded annually to one student of color in an accredited teacher-preparation program in Connecticut, was presented to Chastity at a reception at the Mark Twain House on May 3. The scholarship is named after Alma Exley, a dedicated educator who worked at the Connecticut Department of Education to bring more people of color into the teaching profession.
Chastity’s passion for teaching is rooted in the immense desire she had to learn English upon entering the New Haven public school system. “I didn’t have bilingual classes to take or anyone to give me special instruction,” she explained. “I took it upon myself to sink or swim. I would write down everything the teacher said and go home and practice saying it in the mirror. Sometimes, my cousins would stop by to help me. I watched a lot of television and made up my own way to teach myself, using a lot of flashcards.”
After graduating high school, Chastity enrolled at Fairfield University because she was intrigued by the University’s Jesuit values. A recent graduate, she majored in English/teacher education and minored in Spanish, educational studies, and Latin American and Caribbean studies. During her time at Fairfield, Chastity took advantage of service learning opportunities offered through the Center for Faith and Public Life. Patricia Calderwood, PhD, professor and chair of educational studies and teacher preparation, shared her experience working with Chastity during two semesters in the "Explorations in Teaching and Learning" class.
“Chastity is deeply committed to becoming a change agent as an urban educator in Connecticut," shared Dr. Calderwood. "Her family’s commitment to her education and their constant vigilance has inspired [her] toward an activist stance to make a difference for students, particularly students whose first language might not be English, whose families may be documented or undocumented newcomers to the U.S., who struggle with racism or poverty and who deserve powerful, transformative educational opportunities. Her insights and dedication made a noticeable impact on my students, [her peers], and significantly contributed to the success of the service, and to the growth of the undergraduate students’ commitment to working with urban students."
In addition to service learning opportunities, Chastity sought out teaching internships on her own. She has participated as a teacher assistant for Summer Institute for the Gifted (SIG) programs at Princeton and Yale. This summer she will participate as a teacher assistant for HORIZONS, a program at Foote School in New Haven, working with low-income students who might be struggling academically. “There are plenty of students like me, and this is why I want to be a teacher. If I can help even one student of color, or student learning English as a second language, then I’ve made a difference,” explains Chastity.
Chastity will complete her master’s as a fifth year student at Fairfield in the fall.