The 5-year-old boy had been kicked out of several schools, his behavioral issues too challenging for his teachers to handle, before he came to Forever Young Montessori School in Virginia Beach, Virginia. His parents wondered how long their child could last at this new school, and whether yet another set of educators would give up on him.
They didn’t yet realize that the kindergarten teacher and head of pre-K at Forever Young was someone who refused to give up, a man of exceptional tenacity who understood the importance of fighting for an education—for that child, for all children, and for himself. It didn’t take long for the teacher to realize that the student was bored academically. He worked with the child to embrace his intellectual curiosity and help him develop the discipline to be a successful student. An extensive background in child development and education led to that success story for Jay D. Rodriguez ’14, and MSEd graduate and EdD student with a specialization in early childhood.
Rodriguez was in a car accident 21 years ago that left him living with seizures. Doctors removed a chunk of the right temporal lobe of his brain in an attempt to reduce the frequency of the seizures. He then spent months in physical and emotional therapy to relearn how to live a normal life. But he wanted more than that. As the child of educators—his family founded Forever Young—he wanted to go back to school. And so within 6 months of his recovery, he did just that. “I was able to start a whole new life,” he says.
Rodriguez received his associate degree in interdisciplinary studies in 2011, and 16 months later, he completed a Bachelor of Science in early childhood with summa cum laude honors. But that wasn’t enough. So he enrolled at Walden in 2012 for his Master of Science in Education, focusing on teaching adults about early childhood education.
One of my previous instructors is a Walden student and highly recommended it for my continuing education,” Rodriguez says. “Online programs are a challenge, but I love a challenge. This was just the next step toward teaching at a higher level.”
The degree helped Rodriguez understand the importance of focusing on the process of education—the environment, the planning, the teaching quality, the trust built between teachers and caregivers—and not just the outcome.
“A good teacher does not just teach you mathematics and how to read but also teaches you about life and helps you grow as a person,” he says. “Throughout my MSEd courses, I learned more about children through research and with the professional guidance from my instructors. I have learned about the growing stages of young children and, at the same time, learned the basic fundamentals needed early in their lives.”
This year, Rodriguez reenrolled for his Doctor of Education with a focus on teaching adults. He expects to finish the program in about five years. It’s a challenge he characterizes as his greatest yet.
“My continuous studies open up a new perspective in the way I look at education— the promises, the values, and the support needed to secure a positive attitude toward education, families, and children,” Rodriguez says.