Diversity and inclusion champion
Diversity and inclusion champion
The WE Teachers program was designed to provide teachers like Leonela Garcia with free resources to help address critical social issues and empower students. Garcia came to teaching after 10 years of working in pharmacy. She was hired to work at Union Square Academy and tasked with creating its pharmacy program from scratch within a year. Six years later, it’s the only program of its kind in the city and is a model for other career and technical education programs. She is committed to nurturing opportunities for young minority women and goes above and beyond to support her students. She has used WE resources to address critical social issues in their neighborhood with her students, raising awareness about important inclusion and diversity social justice issues. They’ve helped to raise awareness about sexual harassment and rights and recognition of the LGBTQ community. “It’s not just thinking about it and putting it on paper,” says Garcia. “But actually doing something about it.”
As the pharmaceutical teacher at New York City’s Union Square Academy, Leonela Garcia uses humor, discipline and a deep sense of empathy to give the young minority women in her classes the support they need to change the status quo.
Garcia came to teaching after 10 years of working in pharmacy—a career she started right out of high school. She was hired two weeks before Union Square Academy opened in August 2012 and tasked with creating its pharmacy program from scratch within a year. Six years later, it’s the only program of its kind in the city and is a model for other career and technical education programs. Over 75 percent of the school’s student body is female, and most of them are from minority backgrounds. This unique demographic was a big part of why Garcia took the job.
“If this high school was around when I was going to school, I definitely would have gone here,” she says.
Garcia knows from personal experience that minority women can face extra barriers in the workforce. She says they are often paid less, promoted more slowly and judged more harshly for their appearance, such as their hair and the way they dress. These challenges can be discouraging and cause young minority women to drop out of careers they might love, adds Garcia. To counter this, she believes educators need to be more than teachers; they need to be mentors. Garcia credits her own mentor, Patrick Ebea, who was Garcia’s manager at her first job out of high school, for encouraging her to enter pharmacy as a career.
Garcia tries to go above and beyond to support her students in the same way. She understands that students with a difficult home life may need extra time on their tests, and she makes sure she is available after school to chat with students who need to confide in a trusted adult. She also makes sure that her students can give back through service-learning projects.
Using WE resources, Garcia works to address critical social issues with her students and give them the opportunity to be active in their neighborhoods. As a result, they’ve helped to raise awareness about important social justice issues such as sexual harassment and the rights and recognition of the LGBTQ community. “It’s not just thinking about it and putting it on paper, but actually doing something about it,” she says. “It helps to bring ideas to life.”
Garcia knows what it’s like to not feel able to make an impact in the world. The youngest of five siblings, she was raised in the Bronx by a single mom who immigrated from the Dominican Republic and worked in childcare to make ends meet. Garcia would often come home from school and pitch in to help with her mother’s youngest charges. She believes that those early experiences helped make her the teacher she is today.
“Kids’ lives can be hard when they leave school,” she says. “They don't always go to an apartment that’s clean or get to sit with family for dinner. A lot of them don't even get a home-cooked meal.”
As the program she helped launch prepares to graduate its latest class, Garcia is most proud that so many of her former students still drop by to see her and share their passion for their careers. “I know that I’m teaching students that are going to be active participants in the health care industry, and that’s such a big deal.”
Walgreens knows that at the heart of every community are our unsung heroes—teachers. That’s why they’ve partnered with WE to develop a program that provides free tools and resources to teachers nationwide to help them address the changing needs of their classrooms, like funding and addressing critical social issues.