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Staff Focus: Vanessa Morales, Hispanic Achievement Liaison, Reservoir High School

Posted: October 14th, 2015

Vanessa Morales is the Reservoir High School Hispanic achievement liaison. In this position, she collaborates with students, staff, families and community members to accelerate the academic achievement of the 223 Hispanic students at Reservoir. She partners with staff across the school to work toward meeting Vision 2018’s goals for students, staff and families as they pertain to Hispanic students and their families.

“Vanessa is a great team player,” said Hispanic Achievement Specialist Elisa Montalvo, who supervises Morales’ work. “She is constantly tapping into resources, inside and outside the school, in order to accelerate the academic achievement of Reservoir High School’s Hispanic students.”

Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Morales came to Maryland 24 years ago as a graduate student at the University of Maryland, College Park, and faced the same challenges that many of her students and families do today. “It’s not easy to move to a new country with a different language and culture,” Morales said. “But if I was able to accomplish my educational goal, they also can do it, too. Every opportunity that I have I try to inspire my students with my experience. I always tell them that if you really want something you can accomplish it with hard work, dedication and a positive attitude. I constantly challenge them to take risks that will have an impact on their academic success.”

Morales sees her role in Howard County schools as unique because it focuses on Hispanic  achievement and academic success. “I see every Hispanic student and parent with strengths instead of weakness. It doesn’t matter how challenging a situation with a student or parent is; I always find that strength that helps me connect with them,” Morales said.

Morales oversees the after school club, Los Gators Latinos, which enables students to get to know each other, utilize community resources and partner with other clubs. The students recently made a video and performed a dance as part of the celebration for National Hispanic Heritage Month, taking place from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. Also for Hispanic Heritage Month, Hispanic parents organized a luncheon for the staff with food, decorations and music from their native countries, providing a cultural learning experience for the teachers while inviting parents to get involved. Morales also leads an annual student visit to Fulton Elementary School to read bilingual books and engage in games that reinforce Spanish vocabulary.

Morales has been an Hispanic achievement liaison for eight years, with her first four at Oakland Mills Middle and Oakland Mills High before joining Reservoir. Over the years, she’s found her job most rewarding when she can help make an impact and see the results. Her proudest moments include graduation, students taking on leadership roles, parents becoming engaged, students learning to advocate for themselves and students getting accepted into college. “I am here to guide the students and parents in their journey to college,” Morales said. “They have the desire inside them; my role is to empower them and help them explore the possibilities and together identify resources that will help them accomplish their goal.”

Morales spends much of her time collaborating with others to support her Hispanic students, including serving as a communication link between school staff and the students and their families; facilitating the involvement of Hispanic families in the educational process; and collaborating with non-profits and government agencies to support the students and families. Additionally, she assists in ensuring students’ placement in appropriate programs and utilization of key resources; monitors behavioral data to increase positive learning behaviors; educates the school community toward a deeper understanding of Hispanic cultures; and provides interpretations and short translations, as needed.

Morales explains her passion for the job with, “I believe in education. I think it’s something that nobody can take from you.” She continued with, “Our Hispanic students are great, and the staff is always willing to listen and work with me for the benefit of the students. We all work for a common goal.”

The appreciation is mutual. Reservoir High School Principal Patrick Saunderson said, “Ms. Vanessa Morales is a valued member of the Reservoir High School community. During her years here, she has built incredible relationships with our students, staff and families based on mutual respect, admiration, dedication and commitment. Her passion for learning and student engagement have resulted in our students of Hispanic heritage making huge strides, achieving great success and contributing in many positive ways to our school culture. ¡Señora Morales es una estrella en nuestra comunidad!”