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Jill Perez - Featured Alumna

Jill Perez leaning against a doorMy name is Jill Perez and I grew up here in sunny San Diego. After high school,  I attended junior college and had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do with my life. It was a chance encounter with a friend who mentioned I could continue my college classes and work as a teacher’s assistant in a school to earn some extra money. I had no idea that this decision would alter the course of my life so greatly.

I never knew I wanted to be a teacher. It wasn’t even on my radar as an option. But as I began my new job as a teacher’s assistant in a 6th grade classroom, I quickly fell in love. I was only a few months into my new job, when the principal asked to see me. In all of my years of schooling, I had never been called to the principal’s office. I nervously listened as she mentioned that there would be a new student attending our school. This student was one of the first with Down Syndrome to ever be included in the district. I couldn’t believe that the principal was asking ME to work as a one-on-one aide for this student. I mean, what did I know? I had only had the job a few months and was just beginning to get the hang of things. But luckily, she saw something in me that I didn’t. She saw my potential. She introduced me to Matt, and as they say, the rest is history. I was hooked. I saw the power of inclusive schooling for Matt and I suddenly realized my new passion. A passion to advocate for inclusion and to make inclusive education a reality for all students with disabilities. 

I currently wear several hats in education, but first and foremost, I am a special education teacher.  I have been teaching for over 22 years and have experience in teaching in grades K-8. I currently work at the Thompson Policy Institute on Disability at Chapman University where we work to impact education policy by linking research, policy, and practice with the goal of creating equitable and enviable lives for all people with disabilities. I also have my own consulting company where I work as an inclusion coach and consultant to provide inclusion support to help families, schools and districts improve systems for inclusion. Finally, at CSUSM I work as a University Supervisor to support teacher candidates in their quest to become special educators.

After completing my Bachelor’s degree at CSUSM in 1998, I entered the CSUSM credential program the following summer and became one of the first teacher candidates to work as an intern in a school district in 1999. While I worked and learned, I attended classes at night to obtain my general education and special education credentials. I was completely credentialed by 2001. In 2003, I attended San Diego State to complete my Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction.

What was something that you learned that you carry with you in your current position?

I learned early on that teaching is much more than just working with your students. I learned that it is important to keep an open mind, keep learning, keep growing and keep finding ways to stretch yourself. This job is not easy, but if you keep learning and gaining more skills, knowledge, and experience, you will have more to offer this world. And you never know where the world will take you!

What is a tip you would give to current students?

If you are planning to become a special education teacher, don’t wait to get your Moderate/Severe credential! I know that taking a class or two after your other credentials is not always easy, but I promise, it is worth it! You never know when you will need it. Although your credential may specifically place you with a certain population, students do not fit in those categories so easily. When you are out there doing the work, you want as many tools possible to support all of the students on your caseload.

What is something you recently accomplished?

I recently began a job as a Grant Development and Resource Coordinator. I have never worked on a grant before, but I am learning quickly. We recently finished our first phase of writing and when all is said and done, we hope to open a technical assistance center in California that will support Educator Preparation Programs to improve their programming so that teachers are better prepared to work with students who have been historically marginalized, including students with disabilities.

What is something we might not know about you?

I have a twin sister who also graduated from CSUSM. Our names are located on a stone brick together on the wall of the library. Our uncle is the architect that drew the rendering of the library while we attended and our mother surprised us by dedicating a brick to us. Our family will always be a part of CSUSM!

February 2021