Support system

RPS teacher and VCU alum builds community by serving others

By Brelyn Powell

Jessica Diaz (B.A.’18/H&S; B.A.’18/H&S; M.T.’18/E)
Jessica Diaz (B.A.’18/H&S; B.A.’18/H&S; M.T.’18/E)

Jessica Diaz (B.A.’18/H&S; B.A.’18/H&S; M.T.’18/E) is a proud product of public education in the greater Richmond, Virginia, area. A first-generation American born to parents, who emigrated from El Salvador, Diaz attended kindergarten through 12th grade in Henrico County Public Schools.

Now, Diaz is making a career out of paying it forward as a teacher for Richmond Public Schools.

“My parents sacrificed everything for my sister and I to be born in a country where public education was free,” says Diaz, who teaches sixth- and seventh-grade history at Lucille M. Brown Middle School. “My own public school experience encouraged me to want to help other students have the same chance at a world-class education, no matter where they live.”

Teaching during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic only deepened her commitment to excellence in public education. This fall, RPS returned to in-person instruction, but the effects of the public health crisis continue to affect school operations. In the face of these challenges, Diaz has become an advocate for herself, her colleagues and her students.

“I think any teacher would agree that, after a year away from students, being able to see and connect with them in person has really cemented in our hearts why we do this work,” Diaz says. “However, we’re living through an era of consequences. The COVID-19 pandemic revealed a lot of cracks in the education system and now is a good time to rethink how the system can better support students and teachers.”

On May 1, a Virginia law allowing local governments to engage in collective bargaining with employees went into effect, creating a new opportunity for RPS teachers to organize and negotiate the terms of their contracts. As a member of the Richmond Education Association, a union of education workers employed by RPS, Diaz has been working with colleagues to bring a collective bargaining resolution to the Richmond School Board for a vote. 

“We’re at a turning point where it’s so important that we’re able to recruit people into the teaching profession, and things like collective bargaining help with that,” Diaz explains. “If teachers can negotiate their contracts, we can work toward establishing an environment that promises fair treatment, fair wages and support for teachers. And a more supportive working environment for teachers results in a better learning environment for students.”

Whether she’s supporting students in the classroom, advocating for colleagues throughout the school system or engaging fellow Virginia Commonwealth University alumni through her service on the VCU Alumni Recent Graduate Council, which she joined earlier this year as an opportunity to “share the joy of VCU,” Diaz seeks connection and community in all she does.

“I say, ‘It takes a village’ when I’m talking about supporting students, but it applies to so many other aspects of life, too,” she says. “Community is everything. If systems of support are in place, everyone is better off for it.”  

Editor’s note: Opinions expressed belong to Jessica Diaz and do not reflect the views of Richmond Public Schools, the Richmond Education Association or Lucille M. Brown Middle School.

– Brelyn Powell is a contributing writer for the alumni magazine.