Shorewood High School teacher Jesse Perez—now in his eighth year teaching social studies, second at Shorewood—was selected as one of two recipients in the entire U.S. to receive the highly competitive and prestigious Frederick Douglas-James Madison Fellowship.
The Frederick Douglass-James Madison Fellowship is a privately funded, $24,000 graduate fellowship offered nationwide to a person of color who is a United States citizen and who is a secondary level teacher or prospective teacher of American history, American government or civics to earn a master’s degree studying the Constitution. A second privately funded Frederick Douglass-James Madison Fellowship is offered to a person of color in the State of Texas.
This fellowship aims to encourage people of color to become outstanding teachers and to honor Frederick Douglass, himself a constitutional scholar. With this new education, the recipients will be able to take this knowledge into the classroom.
“This is an outstanding honor and incredible opportunity for Mr. Perez,” says Interim Superintendent JoAnn Sternke. “It is much deserved, and we are proud to call him a Shorewood teacher!”
In addition to the scholarship money, the fellowship also provides an opportunity for the recipients to learn from a Supreme Court justice, complete a six-week accelerated program at Georgetown University, and many other amazing opportunities.
“The application process was the most intense application I’ve ever done in my entire life,” Perez says. “I found out about the opportunity through the WeAreTeachers newsletter and my wife Julia encouraged me to apply. I had to write multiple essays, including one about my pedagogy, one about my inspiration for teaching, and one about the importance of teaching the US Constitution. Ultimately, it was well worth it.”
When the acceptance package arrived, Perez says he opened it with his wife and then immediately called his mom.
In one of his application essays, he writes: My mom has always been the biggest optimist and is the single most influential person in my entire life. Everything that I am is thanks to her guidance, wisdom and sacrifices. Regardless of whatever we faced, she did so with a smile on her face and an unwavering optimism that we would find a way.
Perez’s wife, Julia, had the following to say, “Though you may not know it based on the constant smile and positive energy he brings into every space he walks into, [Perez] has fought his way through a challenging life, facing poverty, homelessness, and other hardships throughout the years. He never gave up. He saw a future for himself & worked tirelessly towards those goals. I am so proud of him and his hard work, dedication, and passion for educating our youth.”
Perez has no plans to put his teaching career on hold while he completes the fellowship, and instead hopes to find an online or local master’s program that fits with his busy schedule.
In addition to teaching, Perez is currently the Varsity girls tennis assistant coach, the Varsity boys tennis head coach, the Mock Trial teacher coach, a member of Partners for Racial Inclusion which works to support new educators of color, and Perez has just been appointed to the Wisconsin Council for the Social Studies Board of Directors.
“I’m just really grateful for the opportunity I’ve been given [to pursue this fellowship] and I’m excited to get started,” says Perez. “I’m so fortunate and thankful for my wife, my mom, and my colleagues- especially Evan Schmidt for really pushing me - and to Tim Kenney and Amanda Jamerson for writing me letters of recommendation… My biggest goal has always been to help my students feel empowered and feel like they can make a difference and impact their communities. [The fellowship] will help me continue to grow as an educator and I believe it will - as a result - have a positive impact on my students as well.”
To learn more about the Frederick Douglass-James Madison Fellowship, visit: https://www.jamesmadison.gov/fellowship-information/frederick-douglass-james-madison-fellowship