Deisy Avellaneda: Defying the Odds Through Education

This early childhood and elementary education major knows firsthand the difference a teacher can make in young lives

by Janet Edwards

Reading time: 5 minutes

Deisy Avellaneda, a tenacious 24-year-old who dreams of becoming a teacher, was raised in the Texas foster care system and lived in her car for two years as a teenager. She knows firsthand the difference a teacher can make in young lives.

Although she attended high school, Avellaneda gave herself a lot of passes; if something seemed too difficult, she ran. That is, until the day her advanced placement language arts teacher chased Avellaneda down the hallway on the first day of class in an all-out effort to convince her she belonged in the course.

The teacher, Vanessa Laware, knew Avellaneda was smart enough to do the work because she had good grades in other classes. She was relentless — and convincing, Avellaneda says.

“I want to be there for my students. When they walk in, I want them to know they’re safe, that we’re there to learn.”

“Being in her class gave me a different outlook. She taught me that I can’t let my background be an obstacle — that I needed to be resilient,” Avellaneda says. “She took the time to talk with me about it and stayed after school or came early to help me with my writing. I want to be the kind of teacher for someone else that she was to me.”

Laware eventually welcomed Avellaneda into her home and family, where she lived until Avellaneda began a family of her own. She and her fiancé, Steven, have a two-year-old daughter, Bella. They moved to St. Louis last year to be near Steven’s family, and Avellaneda transferred to Maryville from the university she attended in Houston.

“Maryville University is one of the main reasons St. Louis was sold to me. The amount of support and resources the school provides for students is amazing,” says Avellaneda, a junior majoring in early childhood and elementary education.

“I chose elementary education because I feel you can make a lot of difference in a young child’s life,” she says. “You might be the only person who smiles at them; they might not get that at home.”

Avellaneda already envisions the classroom she hopes to lead after graduation: “I want to be there for my students. When they walk in, I want them to know they’re safe, that we’re there to learn. Mistakes are a wonderful opportunity to learn. I don’t want them to be scared to raise their hands. And I don’t want it to be a quiet room because when there’s talking and peer-to-peer conversation, there’s learning happening there. Kids need to hear other kids thinking and be there for each other.”

Her skills continually develop through the practicum opportunities provided by her program. Beginning in the sophomore year, Maryville education students are assigned a classroom each semester, where they spend eight hours each week. Avellaneda completes her practicum hours at a local elementary school.

This semester, she leads read-aloud sessions and guided reading groups, and teaches small group lessons. Perhaps her most rewarding accomplishment, however, is shepherding students through school hallways.

“That may not seem like a big deal, but to get 20 little six-year-olds that all want to do what they want to do in a line to go somewhere is huge. They all want to go different places and play with each other’s hair,” she says, laughing as she visualizes the exercise.

Balancing family life, school work and her practicum hours is challenging and requires both late night and early morning hours to squeeze in all the responsibility, but Avellaneda is determined to complete her degree.

“I’ve been working since I was 14,” she says. “For a long time, I was a store manager and I think that experience helps me manage my time. Things need to get done and done well in a certain amount of time.”

Between her St. Louis family and her peers and professors at Maryville, Avellaneda is grateful for her strong support system.

And she’s highly motivated to succeed.

“Education is one of the most important things I have,” she says. “It’s mine, no one can take it away from me. I just didn’t want to end up another statistic. I hate people putting you in a box. That pushed me to want to go to school and defy the odds. Regardless of the stuff going on, I knew I wanted to be somebody. You can’t let anything get in your way.”


Scholarship Recipient

Just as Avellaneda knows the value of a good teacher in a young student’s life, she also understands the financial difference a scholarship makes for college students who are determined to make their career goals a reality. Avellaneda is the recipient of the Margaret Amidei Galbraith (Class of ’59) Endowed Scholarship and the Monsanto Endowed Scholarship, both provided through Maryville’s School of Education.

“These scholarships lighten my financial burden, which allows me to focus more on the most important aspect of school—learning,” Avellaneda says.