Paola Perez ('16 & '18), an accomplished math educator and Dean of Students at Vaughn Middle School in the Washoe County School District, has been making significant contributions in both students' lives and communities across the state.
Perez's journey into education was inspired by her personal experience as an immigrant from Mexico, where she faced language barriers in school but found an early passion for math.
"Math was the only subject I was excelling in for a bit because numbers are universal, and I could do arithmetic," Perez said. "Eventually, I realized that this was not an easy subject for everyone, and I enjoyed helping others understand math. I still had to work hard as the level of difficulty increased, but I knew what it was like to not be 'good' at something, and I had the patience and the ability to explain things in various ways to people."
From here, Perez dove into education and her ability to help others understand the subject led her to become a teacher. She left an impression on Dianna Townsend, Professor of Literacy Studies, while pursuing her undergraduate degree in Secondary Education with a specialization in Mathematics.
"She was consistently professional and prepared, and her academic work was in the top 1% of undergraduate students," Townsend said. "In particular, her insights and her willingness to apply new knowledge were remarkable. Her goal was to become a secondary math teacher, and she deftly applied concepts of language and literacy development to math curricula, reasoning, and assessment. She was exceptional in her ability to provide literacy scaffolding to help all students develop math reasoning skills."
Perez also credits the practicum placements for further expanding her passion for education as she was able to transition into a long-term substitute teacher during student teaching, which turned into a full-time position after graduation. For Perez, the most rewarding aspect of being a math educator was helping students overcome the mental barriers associated with math. She encouraged students to try their best, fostering a growth mindset and helping them realize their potential.
However, Perez's dedication to education didn't stop in the classroom. She pursued a master's degree in Educational Leadership, aiming to have a broader impact on student's educational journeys. Her career path eventually led her to her current role as the dean of students at Vaughn Middle School.
"In my current position as dean, my favorite part is still helping students grow in a different capacity," Perez said. "I work in a middle school, and in this age group, students are supposed to make mistakes and learn/grow from them. I like to help students reflect and allow them to become a better version of themselves."
Outside of her role at Vaughn Middle School, Perez works with the Nevada Adolescent Literacy Network (NALN), which was co-founded by Townsend. She and her team have developed goals for how to share achievement and engagement data with the state and have run listening sessions with 7th and 8th graders at Vaughn to listen to their stories and ideas about adolescent literacy. Perez juggles the many demands of her time as a middle school administrator while also engaging in this important planning and reflective work with NALN.
Perez's commitment to education doesn't end here. Her career goals include continuing to be a leader within the Washoe County School District, with aspirations to become an assistant principal and continue to fulfill instructional leadership roles.
Perez's dedication to education and her impact on adolescent literacy through her involvement with the NALN reflect her unwavering commitment to empowering students and improving educational outcomes in Nevada. Her journey from an undergraduate student at the University to a respected educator and leader is an inspiring story of passion, dedication, and making a positive impact, one student and one family at a time.