From the moment CPS student Jessenia Martinez steps into a room, her energy is palpable. Exuding happiness and having a tireless sense of purpose, it's easy to see that she has a bright future ahead of her.
A senior at Benito Juarez Community Academy and the new Honorary Student Board Member with the Chicago Board of Education, Martinez is an aspiring journalist and claims that she will stop at nothing to pursue her dreams. But she'll be the first to tell you that she didn't always know what those dreams were.
"I used to be so shy, and didn't know where I was going and what I wanted to do," she said. "But my teachers expanded my knowledge of everything I could do, and now I feel so happy and am very grateful to them. They all pushed me over my limits because they knew I could do it. Now, I can push myself, and I owe it all to them."
Jessenia's teacher, Ms. Winfield, has been the inspiration behind her decision to pursue journalism.
"She is the one who introduced me to journalism and encouraged me to write for my community paper. She also put me in touch with programs at Columbia and DePaul," said Martinez. "Ms. Winfield has opened so many doors to me. She's just amazing."
A highly active student at Juarez, Martinez is taking a slew of honors classes – physics, studio art, computer science, literature and calculus – and participates in many extra-curricular activities, including photography, an extra art class and a jewelry club.
Martinez's long list of extra-curricular activities doesn't end there. Eager to learn and try new things, she's seized various job opportunities and projects, such as working as an administrative assistant at City Hall, researching malaria at the Field Museum, studying water repellency with a professor at University of Illinois Chicago, representing teens who love to read on the Harold Washington Library Teen Volume Council – and most recently representing her peers on the Chicago Board of Education.
"My counselor told me about the position with the Chicago Board of Education, and I knew it would be an amazing opportunity to enhance my skills and prepare for college," said Martinez. "I didn't expect to get the position at all. When I found out I had been selected, I felt a mixture of motions. I want to cry and scream at the same time!"
Students applying for the honorary position must hold a 3.0 G.P.A or higher and have an attendance rate of 95 percent, as well as be a current or past student council member, hold a junior or senior class office, or be on their Local School Council. In recognition of her service, upon attending a two- or four-year college or university, the Board will present Martinez with a $1,000 scholarship.
Martinez said that she is enjoying learning from the Board of Education members, as well as representing her fellow students and keeping them informed as to what is going on.
"Jessenia really stood out among the students that applied to participate on the Board," said Elisa M. Botello, Board Liaison. "She is an incredibly accomplished young woman who is eager to further her education. She's an inspiration to her peers, teachers and community, and we were thrilled to give her this opportunity."
Already accepted by a university in Michigan, and eagerly awaiting word from other schools she has applied to, Martinez has had her eye on attending college for long time.
"My parents always told me how important education is and pushed me to get good grades," said Martinez. "I'm really committed to my studies because I want to go to college and succeed. I want to make my parents proud and become a journalist, either in print or maybe even broadcast."
So in the next few years, don't be surprised to see the name "Jessenia Martinez" at the top of an article as you flip through the paper or her face when you turn on the news.
Even as she continues to pursue her own goals and dreams, Jessenia is a constant source of encouragement to her friends and peers.
"I'm still researching new colleges and scholarship opportunities, and I always share the information I find with my friends," she said. "I want to encourage my friends to pursue their passions, and I like sharing my ideas on how they could use their skills and talents."
About Benito Juarez Community Academy High School
BJCA engages all members of the learning community in relevant and rigorous academic programs that celebrate individual and combined strengths, nurture social and intellectual development, and inspire active participation as global citizens.