Senior Spotlight: Rita Rivera, Class of 2022

Rita Rivera is a student-teacher at Rowan University who will work at the Salem County Vocational-Technical School after graduating in May. - Photo / Rita Rivera

Rita Rivera was always fascinated with the idea of teaching younger kids as an early education student, but just months removed from graduation at Rowan, she found herself back in high school. 

“I’ve worked with small children my whole life,” Rivera said, “I just thought that that was the grade I wanted to teach, but it didn’t turn out that way.” 

Rivera’s path to teaching in high school has been a learning experience. As a transfer student from Salem Community College, she joined a program called Gear Up; a state-wide organization that seeks to assist students of low-income communities in achieving success in post-secondary education.

Working with Gear Up had involuntarily “actually made me realize that I wanted to teach higher grades,” Rivera said. 

Not only did she cite the after-school tutoring she took part in that changed her perspective, but it was also her passion for social-emotional learning amongst her students and an investigative hunger that rounded out her desire for high-level education.

“Being able to impact their lives and help them gain back what they might have missed in their childhood is big for me,” Rivera said. 

Once Rivera understood her newly found passion as a teacher, it did not take long for her to find a dream position. Just months after graduation in December, she got a job as a teacher for Salem County Vocational-Technical School teaching career technical education. 

“I teach those high school students how to be a daycare teacher,” Rivera said, creating a full circle feeling for her.

Despite making the switch, early childhood education will always stay with Rivera. She spent six years at her local daycare full time and a year at Rowan University’s daycare center.

“It really broadened my horizons for what education should look like for smaller children,” Rivera said of the campus daycare. 

Rowan’s Early Childhood Demonstration Center is a preschool facility on campus that teaches students aged 3-6 academic achievement and social skills. 

Rivera noted how Rowan’s daycare inspired new habits for her local daycare center, implementing “not a bunch of Buzz Lightyear toys but actual things they’re getting stimulation from.” 

Even with immense preparation, there are still moments in healthcare or education that are too real for any textbook to understand. Rita detailed a conjecture like this during her experience with COVID-19, explaining how she reviewed dozens of case studies on mental health and signs of abuse during quarantine but was still emotionally unprepared for her first report of abuse during the first month of her high school occupation. 

“I cried a lot. I never thought I would see it in real life besides on paper. So it was definitely shocking,” Rivera said. 

Rivera was able to overcome the discomfort from this particular student’s story, in part due to the Early Education program at Rowan. 

“It looks like it is going to take forever, and it might, but pace yourself and don’t give up,” Rivera said of incoming freshmen looking to get into the same field. It has opened up opportunities for her in the fields of literacy studies and special education, as it has grown to be one of the premier programs at Rowan. 

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