Juan Newell is a Paraprofessional at Crescent City Schools’s Aurora Program. Juan, who is in his second year with the program, is currently preparing to graduate from Southern University at New Orleans with a Bachelor of Social Work degree.
Juan has spent the past six years working in his field and has used this experience to support not only the staff at Aurora but also his scholars. “On a daily basis my role to assist my team may vary between different forms of mental, and at times physical, collaborative work with other team members,” he says. “Since we are an alternative program, each day can be different for the population we serve, working with kids who have many different social and emotional stressors in their lives which affect their behaviors.”
Though he didn’t know it then, it was Juan’s experiences in his childhood that created a desire to have a career in social work. “I work in this field for two major reasons: first, I relate to a lot of our scholars. I grew up in a single-parent home, witnessing the struggles and stressors my family and I faced to stay in a comfortable state not just financially, but also mentally and emotionally,” he says. “Second, being raised by my mother who is also a social worker allowed me to see the personal rewards that come from helping others and look to be that support in someone’s life by encouraging others to broaden their horizons.”
Director of the Aurora Program, Emma Weiss, knew when she first met Juan that he had a deep commitment to the work he wanted to do. “Juan’s motivation derives from his desire to work with kids from the same places he grew up and show them that they can succeed in anything. He is passionate about empowering our scholars and getting them to make positive choices,” she says.
It isn’t just his own story that motivates Juan to succeed at the Aurora Program, but also the progress he can see his scholars making. “My favorite part about my job is the moments when I see growth, happiness, and awareness in our scholars,” he says. “It’s rewarding to witness the moments when they feel happy; when they feel stress-free and worry-free; when they can be a kid and just live life. The times that I can share with them when they are open to love and be loved warms my heart – it reminds me of why I want to do what I do.”
Juan also reflects on the personal growth he has made while working at the Aurora Program, “I feel that the environment here at Crescent City Schools, particularly at the Aurora Program, was ideal and very beneficial to me as a young man looking to gain confidence and more experience in my field,” he says. “When I first started here, I felt timid to speak my mind and provide input during staff meetings, feeling that my opinion would not be as important or useful as the other, more experienced staff members,” he says. “I learned quickly to let that go. Emma pushed me to open up and reminded me constantly that I was a valuable part of this team. Her support allowed me to feel comfortable and confident in myself. Whenever I would have a breakthrough with a scholar, the staff would commend me for that and acknowledge my hard work. The support I receive from the team reminds me that I not only want to make my scholars proud of themselves but also my team proud of the work we are all doing.”
Emma values Juan’s passion for teamwork and also acknowledges how important his demeanor in the classroom is to his scholars. “Everyone at Aurora would agree that he is a pleasure to work with. He is always so patient and calm and strives to teach our kids ‘life lessons’ every minute of the day.”
Juan is quick to admit that his patience comes from getting to see the impact he can have on the kids in his community. “As a young black male in the community, I am proud to be a part of a program that serves in providing an alternative way of thinking and reacting to adversity and tough times.”
“Our scholars like spending time with him. He offers great words of wisdom when they need them the most; he has become a mentor to them. They truly look up to him, and he is a great role model for them to have,” says Emma.
Third-grader Mi’King agrees, “Mr. Newell is one of my favorite teachers because he supports us, and he will always listen to me.”
Just taking the time to listen to his students comes naturally to Juan; at the end of the day, he wants them to understand all of the great possibilities that lie ahead of them. “It’s important to me that I inspire my students to reach their full potential. I want to connect them with valuable resources they didn’t know were available. I find joy in knowing I can be a part of them finding happiness and being able to be optimistic about what tomorrow will bring.”