Mercedes’s Story: Changing her Students’ Lives

Meet Mercedes, a high school special education teacher who lives in Bridgeport, CT.

Tell me about your profession.

Well, I originally didn’t plan to be a teacher. A few years back, I completed a year with AmeriCorps. I loved the opportunity to be that positive role model for students, which is what inspired me to go back to school and earn my certificate to teach English.

My boss said that I should look into getting a degree in Special Education, which is what I did. I love getting to be a special education teacher because it’s about empowering students and their families.

What does a day in your life look like?

I wake up, get dressed, have breakfast, go through my classes, check-in with my students, and then check in with teachers.

After school is done, I run a girls’ mentoring program. We’re actually talking about financial literacy next, so I’m excited to share SaverLife’s Money 101 articles with them.

How’d you get started with your school’s girls’ mentoring program?

I was voluntold to run it. The kids chose me to lead their group. It was originally only for upperclassmen, but now girls from all four grades are involved.

It’s about bringing the upperclassmen and lowerclassmen together to have important conversations with one another. For me, it’s all about giving back. I’m happy that they like the topics we talk about.

How has COVID-19 impacted your job?

After four years of teaching, this year was the hardest. My students really didn’t like online classes. It was hard for them to be on their own and not have someone monitor them. It’s also been really hard to teach from home because I couldn’t get the kids as motivated or engaged over video calls.

The pandemic took a toll on what education looked and felt like. I was able to realize how fulfilling it was to teach classes in person.

As the pandemic went on, some of my students would be “attending” my online class while they were at work, and some completely gave up. Actually, some students chose to be homeschooled until they could go back to school in person.

At the end of the day, I just wanted to make sure that I could help my kids and make sure they graduate.

Could you share more about how you use our articles in your classroom?

In our school’s consumer math class, there were a number of students who struggled to grasp some of those concepts. These students had projects about saving money, picking a career, and making a budget. It was like pulling teeth with some of these kids to get their projects done.

After my aunt introduced me to SaverLife, I started sharing the Money 101 articles in class and we’d read them together. Then, I could see things start to click for these kids.

SL helped me share real-life examples of financial situations that they’ll experience in life. The articles are full-proof. They’d end up talking to each other about money management afterward.

One thing I realized throughout this process is that we don’t talk about college planning until they’re a senior in high school. How do first-generation students understand long-term investments, choosing a career, taking on student loans, etc.?

I firmly believe that we should start having these conversations sooner. In Connecticut where I teach, we have the biggest achievement gap in the nation. I want to help my students be independent and learn how to manage their money.

Can you tell me about a time you struggled with your finances?

My first year of college was tough because I didn’t have a job and didn’t realize how expensive textbooks were. Also, if my friends wanted to go off campus, I didn’t have money for that. 

The first semester was a pivotal moment in my life. After I got a job, I started an emergency fund. But it still felt like I was going through this cycle of attending class, going to my job, going out with friends, and then not having money left.

What do budget and saving look like?

In the beginning, both saving and budgeting were hard for me. Now, I create a budget spreadsheet every month. These days, my goal is to save at least 20% of each paycheck.

I look at my income from teaching and tutoring, and at the end of each week, I look through my purchases and see if there’s anything that I can return. Impulse purchases are my weakness.

I was actually reading this article from SaverLife about making SMART goals. After reading the article, I literally made a goal for the income I make from teaching.

Are you paying student loans right now?

I’m not paying my student loans right now because I just graduated after earning my Master’s in Special Education last week. So I still have some time before the repayment process starts. I really believe teaching is an undervalued profession.

Who knows? Maybe Dr. Jill Biden will be able to help raise awareness that teachers need to be paid more.

Have you received a stimulus payment? Do you recall what you do with the money?

I was fortunate enough to have received all the stimulus payments. A lot of it went toward paying off my credit cards. Any excess money after that went to fixing my car as well as savings.

How did you find SaverLife?

My aunt is a preschool teacher and she stays very engaged with her students’ parents. SaverLife was one of the websites that she recommended to her parents, and she recently shared your website with me.

I like that I get rewarded with points and badges for reading the articles. It’s really helpful for me. I also like that you can read other people’s stories.

Are you saving for anything in particular?

Well, I’d love to pay off my mortgage and just get a new car. I’m just saving for emergencies now.

Tell me about your biggest financial achievement.

My biggest achievement was definitely paying for my used car in cash.

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