There was a time when 2013 Rhode Island Teacher of the Year Jessica Waters’ future might not have included a high school diploma, never mind a successful tenure as part of the Beacon Charter High School for the Arts’ staff that has helped students double their proficiency level in science.
Growing up in a household with two drug-addicted parents, she dropped out of school at age 16 to go it on her own with her mother’s permission but no help from her school’s guidance system.
She enrolled in Community College of Rhode Island’s GED preparation classes but was able to pass the test on her own in the same year, 1995, that she would have graduated high school.
She worked two part-time jobs, at Dunkin’ Donuts and as a dog groomer, to make ends meet.
A desire for a deeper education led her back to CCRI, where her past experiences instilled a desire to work with at-risk teens and reinforced her dream to be the first person in her family to graduate college.
She joined Beacon Charter High School, where nearly half of the 230 students are economically disadvantaged, and serves as the adviser to the Woonsocket school’s Students Against Destructive Decisions chapter.
PBN: What originally made you want to become a teacher?
Waters: Just really, truly caring about the welfare of at-risk teens. My personal experience is probably really what brought me into the profession. I was an at-risk teen. … When I had my mom come and sign me out [of high school], the counselor just signed the forms. It was kind of disheartening. I know now because of all the great teachers and guidance counselors [I know] it was just my own experience. It doesn’t mean there aren’t great teachers in Rhode Island.