MNPS Voices: Jessica Abarquez-New

MNPS Voices: Jessica Abarquez-New, English Language Development Teacher, Glencliff High School
Posted on 01/18/2023
Jessica Abarquez-New

Dr. Jessica Abarquez-New is a self-proclaimed “mama bear” when it comes to her students and her school. So the 13-year English teacher at Glencliff High School roared on behalf of her students when she wrote an op-ed for The Tennessean to counter a local TV station calling her school a “dropout factory.” Jessica Abarquez-New

New has worked at Glencliff since she was hired as an English tutor in 2010. She is currently in her first year as an English Language Development (ELD) teacher. Her “one school” loyalty is one reason she is a big defender of Glencliff’s reputation.

New knows success can’t just be judged through numbers and statistics.

“Working here for as long as I have, I have seen the ebbs and flows with our students,” she said. “My students succeed in their own way – whether it is going to college, having families or becoming a teacher here.”

New, who is Filipino, works with students who are immigrants and know little or no English. Her students vary in their English proficiency, but she works with them every day and is impressed and inspired by their eagerness to learn.

“They work so hard because they are driven by determination. They want to be successful – even if that success is just in their other classes.”

New earned her bachelor’s degree from Radford University and was a dual major in English and Spanish. She is re-learning and practicing Spanish while teaching English. She admits she doesn’t always translate accurately. However, this exchange helps her students build confidence to try.

Dedicated to Students  

Motivating and supporting students comes easy to New. Connecting to students who have been “written off” is her passion. She gauges her influence and impact through the rate of EL students applying to college. New knows that at the end of the day, she is here for the kids.

“I am here for the kids in the seat – not the state school board. I know their bottom line is based in numbers, test scores, graduation rates and data,” she said. “I use data as a tool to help my kids, not define them. I teach against their history of academic labeling. I have to tell my kids, you are not a test score – you are a whole person with abilities that can develop; let’s develop those abilities.”

This level of dedication and passion is why New got fired up about the news segment from Fox 17 that said Glencliff students attend a “dropout factory.” It was important for her students to see her support extend beyond the classroom. She was compelled to write a rebuttal that encompassed and captured her students’ voices.

“Fox (17) does not know what’s going on here – they did not interview one person in this building,” she said. “They have no idea how much the teachers love their students.

“My students are constantly told that they will not amount to anything or that they will never be good enough for the world. When my students read the Fox article, they were angry, but they didn’t know what to do about it. They started to believe what was said about them, and that broke my heart. I had to write that letter so that they can have a voice. I wanted to make sure they understand that they are more than what people say. My students are constantly discouraged, and I did not want them to completely feel that way based on that story. So the most important reason I wrote that letter is because the kids needed that voice.”

Mentoring New Teachers

New is also sharing her passion and motivation with her fellow teachers. She can see the impact of mentoring and support. Coaching teachers is paramount to teacher success. So New and a colleague coordinate the New Teacher Program at Glencliff, developing new ideas that are out of the box, like pairing teachers based on personality versus curriculum content.

New is a graduate of MNPS’s Hume-Fogg Academic Magnet High School and is preparing for a long career in education. In fact, she said she is never coming out of the classroom. With her recently acquired Ph.D. from Middle Tennessee State University, she is going to teach future teachers.

There is not one single day that she doesn’t want to come in the classroom and be with her students.

“I love my kids. I love teaching. I love being their support,” New says. “I love being the person they come eat lunch with. I love so much about this profession. I know I can’t teach the passion, but I want to equip teachers in the future so they would be long-term. I know burnout happens, but if I can help get them beyond the 3-5 years, that’s want I want to do.”

Open Letter to Students and Alumni

Here are a couple of excerpts from the open letter New wrote to Glencliff students and alumni:

"You are a resilient student. You attend one of the most culturally diverse schools in the state of Tennessee. Your interactions with your classmates put you ahead of most people in that you can navigate diversity in an honest and loving way. You show determination, bravery, and pride that many outside of our school building will never comprehend. But these skills cannot be quantified, and that is what “outsiders” care about."

"You are brave. You come to our school from all walks of life. Many are here for better opportunities than you would have had in your home country. Most are here because it is your zoned school, and you did not have a choice. Regardless of how you came to be educated within our walls, you are brave for choosing to attend school every day and work hard at your education. Our diverse learners face challenges including language, socioeconomic status, disability, or any number of “excuses” for not continuing or finishing high school. You do not surrender to these challenges. You stare these challenges in the eye, and say, “Watch me succeed.” Glencliff students, your “label” does not define you."


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