When she was growing up, Jenifer Pineda often heard people tell her this: “You’ll be a great teacher someday.”
However Pineda had other plans and worked in the retail industry for 12 years. When she reflected on how her career could make a positive impact on others, in particular the younger generation, that familiar phrase replayed again in her mind.
This time, something clicked.
Pineda applied to work for NCC Youth Services in 2009, under the supervision of Director Edward Morris, and is currently based at 13th Avenue School in Newark, where she oversees third graders as an After School Program Counselor.
Each day when school lets out, Pineda welcomes students into NCC’s After School Program where she has prepared a structured three-hour program that starts at 3:30 p.m. with a meal and time to socialize. The program then transitions into one hour of homework and tutoring. Afterwards, students break out into small groups for arts and crafts, board games and other educational activities. Following a snack, students are dismissed to go home at 6:30 p.m.
Those three hours, Pineda says, are key to providing students with a stable and nurturing environment where they can flourish—educationally, socially and emotionally.
“Once you show them love, they’re willing to open up and give you a chance,” said Pineda, 29, who also teaches Spanish at New Horizons Community Charter School located across the street from NCC’s Neighborhood Center, at 56-68 Hayes St. in Newark.
Pineda “has always gone the extra mile for Youth Services and the youth we serve,” Morris said. “She also exhibits the same enthusiasm today as she did when she started five years ago. She is a valuable employee to Youth Services and is loved and respected by both the children and our parents,” he added.
Pineda also wants to impact youth outside the classroom. An active member of St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Hillside, Pineda teaches pre-confirmation and confirmation classes to seventh and eighth graders, said Silder Baluarte, who oversees the parish’s religious education.
She “really cares about each and every one of them individually,” Baluarte said of Pineda’s work with the church youth.
For Pineda, showing empathy to a child is important. Born in Guatemala, she grew up in Bound Brook, where just two days before she turned 13, her parents rocked Pineda’s pre-teen world: she was being sent to an international school in Guatemala.
Despite her fierce objection, Pineda was sent overseas for her education, with the goal of mastering flawless Spanish skills.
It was a tough adjustment and she returned to New Jersey after two years, graduating from Plainfield High School in 2004. Ultimately, she credits her parents’ decision with shaping her current career as a Spanish teacher.
“If I didn’t have that, I wouldn’t be speaking Spanish today,” she said.
Pineda has three younger brothers and is studying international business at Montclair State University.