MEET YOUR MENTOR: Yuritza Morales is a “Tough” Act to Follow
She’s now the regional manager for Group Excellence, but Yuritza Morales became a part of our team long before she was plotting her career path, originally joining GEX as a mentor while she was still in college at Southern Methodist University. Taking a break from her busy back-to-school preparations for GEX, Morales recently took a moment to share her thoughts on tutoring, acting “tough,” and the significance of saying “thank you.”
GEX//How did you first get involved with the organization?
Morales//I was a junior at SMU, and I was working at my first retail job. I am pretty sure I let the world know that I was very unhappy! At the time I was involved with the College Hispanic American Students (CHAS) group on campus, and my advisor introduced me to Matt Houston, who was looking for college students to work with kids. I thought, “This is it! I can leave my retail job and work to help kids.” I became even more excited when I found out that tutors were needed at North Dallas High School, my Alma Mater. I was going to get to work with students who were just like me, and I couldn’t wait to tell them about my story and try to motivate them to pursue higher education.”
GEX//What programs are you most passionate about?
Morales//Our summer learning programs! I consider this my baby. I was asked back in the spring of 2008 if I would be interested in leading an academic summer learning program, and I said “yes, if my leaders thought I could do it,” why not? Well, I didn’t realize what I had gotten myself into! There was so much planning and organization involved because this summer camp was not going to be an 8-week program where kids just learned “stuff,” we were going to make sure that our kids left our program prepared to take on the next school year.
During the summer we work with students in the core subjects of math and science. In addition, we also do leadership skills, health and nutrition, and Spanish. Our program taps into the academic, as well as the social and general well being of our students, and our camp staff is always amazing. They are passionate about their students, and they are the reason why camp is always successful. Summer camp is the most challenging but the most rewarding program for our staff, in my opinion.
GEX//During your time with GEX, what has been your most memorable experience?
Morales//It’s really hard to think of a specific experience that is the most significant. Every time a student says things like, “Thank you Miss, I really learned a lot,” or “I appreciate all your help;” I believe each of those moments are significant.
GEX//Which leaders, students, or community partners have made a lasting impression on you?
Morales//My favorite and most memorable students are always the “tough” kids. These are the student that are classified as trouble-makers, unmotivated students, or general slackers. I believe that all students can be good! The majority of these so-called “tough” kids just need someone to listen to them. So, when we get to work with students like that, I notice that after just a few hours of tutoring, these kids are already begin to change their attitudes, and it is an amazing journey to watch. They make more eye contact, are more polite, and begin to ask questions!
I once spoke to a parent who was asking about her daughter’s progress. Her daughter was doing just fine; she was intelligent, polite and always wanted to challenge herself. The mother said she was glad things were going well and that she wished her son would’ve been the same way when he was in school. I soon realized that she was talking about one of our former students, and I told her that her son was actually a great kid. He was also polite, attentive and asked questions. She said I must’ve been mistaken because we couldn’t be talking about the same student. However, after further discussion, we knew that it was her son.
She said that while he was in school, she would only get negative feedback about his behavior and academic work. I told her I couldn’t speak about what he did during regular school hours, but that during our after-school program, he was a good student. Stories like this are why we do what we do. We give our students the chance to be themselves and we actively listen and this makes all the difference.
GEX//What are you most looking forward to as you prepare for the start of a new school year?
Morales//I know this is cliché, but it’s the students! Seeing our old students and meeting new ones at the beginning of each year is exciting. This year I have the privilege to work with our area directors in Detroit and Houston, in addition to Dallas. I look forward to meeting new parents and students in different cities.