There are quite a few things about which I am VERY passionate, and EDUCATION is one of them. I have a tremendous amount of respect for teachers who care more about the education and enrichment of children than about the number of commas in their paychecks. I admire and appreciate those teachers who inspire our youth, push them to excellence, and provide the encouragement they need to become productive and successful individuals.
My tribute to history-making women wouldn’t be complete without me paying homage to an unsung hero, Monique Frierson, whose contributions to society could never be adequately compensated. She has unselfishly shared her wealth of knowledge, experience, and encouragement with hundreds of students over the years.
Monique grew up in the Los Angeles inner-city, approximately 5 minutes from Watts, California. She attended Fremont High School, and graduated with honors in 1995. According to Monique, she always had teachers and counselors who cared about her and kept her abreast of educational and career opportunities that were available to deserving Fremont students. For example, she was able to earn over 14 thousand dollars in scholarships, which, in addition to grants, allowed her to attend the University of Southern California almost entirely free. Monique also credits her family, church family, and teachers for encouraging her to think beyond the ghetto and reach for the stars. She says, “The ghetto was strong, but my support system was stronger.”
In college, Monique double majored in Spanish and Mandarin. Initially she had aspirations of becoming an interpreter, but soon changed her mind when she realized that it required a great deal of traveling outside of the country and didn’t offer the most attractive benefits. At a job fair at USC, she spoke with a Los Angeles Unified School District representative who encouraged her to consider a career in public education. That idea stuck with her, although it took her a while to actually pursue it.
Upon graduation from college, Monique explored her career options. She worked as a Spanish teacher at a Christian Middle School for one year, and then obtained a position at a Chinese-owned golf apparel company, where she was able to speak Mandarin on a daily basis. She really liked her fellow employees, but she eventually left the job because it literally stressed her out. It didn’t take her too long to decide that while corporate America is just right for some people, it wasn’t right for her. She had always thought that she could do well in and enjoy any career path she chose, but she realized that not everything is in God’s will. It was not meant for her to feel comfortable nor was it meant for her to excel in Corporate America.
Monique asked God for guidance. What would He have her to do? When she sat and examined her passions and strengths, she thought back to how important her teachers had been in her academic career. She remembered the support and encouragement that they had provided her, and knew that she wanted to give those same gifts to other young people. It only made sense for her to step back into the classroom.
She didn’t have her credential when she first started teaching, but LAUSD had a pre-intern program that allowed her to begin teaching immediately while she went to school twice a week from 4-7p to prepare for the Multiple Subject Assessment Test (MSAT), which is required in order to teach elementary school. Instead of going into the district intern program, which typically follows the pre-intern program, Monique attended California State University, Bakersfield to obtain her credential. Now that she was positively in the right career field, she aggressively pursued the necessary paperwork to ensure her continued employment with the district. As a result, the 9 month CSUB program was much more attractive to her than the 2 year district program. Ten years later, Monique is still teaching at the school she initially started with in Sylmar, CA…and she ABSOLUTELY LOVES IT.
Each morning before Monique begins her day teaching a class of minority 5th graders, she prays and asks God to allow her to be an expression of His love. She calls herself an “Ambassador for Christ,” and she asks that God speak through her and use her teaching and encouragement for His glory.
Monique’s work is never finished. Sometimes she can spend up to nine hours on a Saturday preparing assignments for her students or grading their papers. She is determined to give her students a thorough foundational understanding of reading, writing, science, and mathematics to equip them for future academic success. She is willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen. Their success makes her time commitment worth it.
One of Monique’s main goals each year is to instill values in her students because many of them don’t have a parental support system at home. A lot of the parents are so busy trying to feed their families and keep a roof over their heads that they don’t have the time, energy, or ability to focus on their children’s education. Monique makes it a point to stress the importance of having manners, being courteous, and respecting others because she sees these as fundamental elements of success.
Monique also tells her students the story of her upbringing and her ability to rise above stereotypes and achieve. She wants them to know that no matter what their situation, they can excel if they put their minds to it and work hard.
On a final note, I was blessed with an opportunity to volunteer in Monique’s classroom this past Black History Month. While I was there I could see just how much respect and admiration her students had for her. She couldn’t hide her passion for educating them. Her students were all obviously bright, well-mannered, and confident children, who were unafraid to answer my many questions. I loved that they were eager to ask me quite a few as well. I left her classroom feeling immensely proud and extremely happy that such a wonderful person stands before 30 students each day and gives them they keys to a bright and promising future. God’s light, shining through Monique (and countless other sincere Christian teachers), is bright enough to remove the darkness that plagues our world…and I thank Him for placing His vessels in a position to implement REAL CHANGE. It starts with the children.