Estela Jaquez was never happier to have homework.
The single mother and Fort Worth teacher battled two horrifying ordeals while enrolled in the Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction – Literacy Studies online program at UTA. She didn't miss a beat in school.
"Being a student at UTA made me stronger," Jaquez said. "It's a good distraction. I didn't have time to be a victim. I didn't have time to have self-pity. I didn't have time to cry because I said, 'I have back-to-back assignments, and I don't want to fall behind.'"
In December 2017, Jaquez's only child expressed suicidal thoughts after being bullied in school for several years. He spent four months in therapy and is doing better and back in school.
"My biggest fear is losing my son," Jaquez said. "When they did an assessment on him, the counselor said if he had scored one more point, he would have gone to the emergency room. I struggled as a mom with how to discipline him and how to love him. It was hard.
"We're still talking about it and working it out. We're hoping that as a middle school student he will mature a little bit and know how much his father and I love him."
As if that wasn't trying enough, Jaquez also suffered a detached retina in one of her eyes and had three surgeries to prevent total blindness around the same time.
"When people say, 'Oh, I can't do it. I can't go back to college,' I tell them that I faced my two biggest fears. Those were two huge obstacles: to have my son entertain suicidal thoughts and to practically go blind. You get out of the program what you put into it."
Jaquez, whose first language is Spanish, teaches pre-kindergarten at Worth Heights Elementary, where she attended school and then student-taught before being hired full-time 14 years ago. She graduated with a bachelor's degree in education from Texas Wesleyan University in 2003.
"Over the years, I have had several students with speech delays," Jaquez said. "I'm so fascinated by nature versus nurture when it comes to language acquisition.
"I want to share my knowledge and experience and work more with early childhood development and with the bilingual department. Both have a lot to do with literacy."
That's why Jaquez jumped at the chance to enroll in the online M.Ed. in Curriculum and – Literacy Studies program after a UTA representative visited her campus.
"I wanted to do it for myself," she said. "My goal was to earn a master's degree before I was 30 years old, which didn't happen. I knew I wanted to go back to school. Thankfully, the representative from UTA came and offered this program. I kept on saying, 'It's okay. I'll postpone it.' There's never a perfect moment."
Jaquez initially struggled with the fully online format. However, Sydney Jones, a co-worker who attended UTA and was familiar with the Learning Management System (LMS) used in the online M.Ed. in Curriculum & Instruction in Literacy Studies program, helped her.
"Online was kind of scary to me," she said. "I was overwhelmed the first time I looked at Blackboard. Not that it was terribly complicated, but for the first time looking at it, I was like, 'I don't know what this is.'
"Thankfully, Sydney said, 'This is your class. This is where you click. There are your modules. This is week one. This is your syllabus.' She guided me through it."
The flexibility of the online format proved to be a godsend — especially with all of the personal problems Jaquez faced.
"It's been manageable," she said. "I'm the type of person who likes to be organized. I print the syllabus, the coursework and the calendar for the assignments. Then, I make it compatible with my work calendar. I always try to stay two weeks ahead in assignments. I try to work ahead. The flexibility is nice."
Lean on Me
The UTA faculty is one of the main reasons Jaquez has thrived in the online M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction – Literacy Studies program.
"Whenever they do the course welcome on [the LMS], you feel a connection," she said. "Plus, the first assignment for every course is an introduction. I read the introduction from the professor, then did my own introduction. The professors always provide feedback and say welcome.
"They provide their office number and email. The professors make each course wonderful, so I didn't feel lost online. If I have a question, they always get back to me within 24 hours or less."
As Jaquez prepared for her first eye surgery, she said her instructors were extremely accommodating.
"Even though they were willing to give me extensions and work with me, which I really appreciated, I only took one extension on one day," she said. "Throughout my issues with surgery and my son, I didn't abuse their willingness to work with me."
Jaquez appreciates the attention she receives as an online student and hopes to provide similar nurturing experiences to her own students.
"When I was a little girl and a student at Worth Heights Elementary, we had career day," she said. "The teacher asked everybody what they wanted to be. I said 'teacher' and never regretted my decision. I really appreciated the UTA faculty more with each course."
Having the right mindset helped Jaquez persevere while preparing for the next step of her career.
"You are your own obstacle," she said. "This program is so achievable. I had a lot of struggles last year. I still managed to have A's in all of my nine classes."
That performance, which will culminate with graduation day in May 2019, also helps Jaquez set a good example for her son.
"I always say to my son, 'Look, mommy has a good report card. You need a good report card, too,'" she said. "I used it to motivate him. I feel like this experience made me stronger. That's why I want to walk across the stage. It took a lot to get there."
Learn more about the UTA online M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction – Literacy Studies program.
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