Article Written by: Tiffany Anderson
"I want my students to reach their dreams."
Born and raised in Colombia, Claudia Newbern knew she wanted big things from her life at a young age. Raised in a poor and often dangerous neighborhood, her parents reminded her constantly how education was her key to success and independence. At fourteen, she had a strong desire to study linguistics and began pursuing it through formal education.
“I joke I wasn’t inclined to be a teacher,” she laughed, “I wanted to spend time in the translation program.” But as fate would have it, in her last year, there were multiple jobs in Colombia teaching English - Claudia jumped right in. Barely removed from the age range of her students, she fell in love with teaching and realized maybe this is what she was meant to do.
While teaching English in Colombia, a couple of Claudia’s colleagues mentioned different opportunities to teach abroad. She applied to two opportunities and a school in North Carolina accepted her as a Spanish teacher where she worked for three years.
“My students were wonderful, it took me a little while to work through cultural differences but I got the hang of it!” After three years of teaching, she could feel the need for a break and tackled translation services for large corporations including Johnson and Johnson and Coca-Cola.
“It was a nice break, I loved learning about new companies and people.”
But during her hiatus, she realized how much she missed the kids and the impact they made on her. Together with her husband, Claudia moved to Virginia Beach where she began working as a middle school Spanish teacher once more. “By that point, I knew the ropes and how to get around the school system. And I started noticing how few Hispanic students there were.” For the Hispanic students she had, she began encouraging them to embrace who they are and their heritage.
“It broke my heart to hear it, but their identity embarrassed a lot of my students and they rarely wanted their peers to know where they came from. I changed that when I came to R.B. Stall High School!”
Together, they began celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month every year with activities such as a Latin dance club, a food truck with Latin American cuisine, games, Jersey day (wearing their country’s sports jersey), and much more. Claudia has always considered herself as an ambassador for her country and encouraged her kids to live similarly. “If you’re from the Dominican Republic, be proud of it! Some kids were from Brazil, and I wanted them to see how special they were.”
While many kids can reach back in their memories to think of favorite teachers, Claudia remarked repeatedly how her kids taught her so much, “I speak Spanish, English, French (I’m rusty!), and I’m learning Portuguese from the kids. They teach me so much every day.”
Ultimately, Claudia’s love for education and teaching stemmed from her own childhood of enjoying education and using it as a tool on her journey. For her, being completely independent and working in the field she enjoyed provided access and success she wouldn’t have found anywhere else.
“I don’t have a mansion but I live comfortably, and that’s the life I’ve always wanted. I’m constantly preaching that education changes your life because it changed mine. Honestly, I want my students to realize they don’t need to settle for the minimum. I want them to reach their dreams.”
Now in Charleston, Claudia is the Assistant Principal at the Newcomer Center, a novel program she advocated for at R.B. Stall High School, which is geared towards Multilingual Learners who are new to the country and aren’t sure where to begin with formal education.
“I was an adult when I arrived in the States and I cried every day! I wanted to make it easier for students to adjust.” The Newcomer Center equips students with the tools they need to learn in every class, and the primary goal is to help students successfully navigate their first school year in the United States. The center offers math, English, and Multilingual Program classes.
Over the years, how Claudia celebrates Hispanic Heritage Month with her students has changed, but alongside the other teachers, she’s opened doors for students to play contests, quiz them on trivia, and have fun “music Fridays” throughout the month.
“I love how they embrace Latin artists like Bad Bunny, Karol G, and others - they’re not my taste but they help my kids embrace their culture.”
In the Summer of 2022, when approached by the Hispanic Alliance about starting a cohort of its Student DREAMers Alliance (SDA) at R.B. Stall High School, Claudia jumped right in - keeping her students’ best interest in mind.
“The SDA program was a great success last year, and I had the privilege to go with the students to all the sessions. I could connect with kids I wouldn’t see otherwise. This program has the potential to change these kids’ futures.”
Claudia’s goal is to be an advocate for her students while teaching them how to speak up for themselves. She hopes that as laws change surrounding citizenship and visas that her students will continue to live and work in South Carolina.