By Lori Haught
When Martha Santos came to New York from Ecuador nearly five years ago, she spoke very little English.
This is a surprising fact considering that today the slight 25-year-old can speak fluently with an accent closer to Brooklyn than Ecuador.
Set to graduate in the spring of 2007 from the Borough of Manhattan Community College, Santos is one of four students at B.M.C.C. and 20 in the city to be 2006 Rickel Teaching Scholars.
The two-year-old scholarship, sponsored by the Annette Rickel Foundation, varies in amount but it is intended to be enough to allow students to live without working outside of school. Non-white community college students in the city who plan to become math and science teachers in the public school system are eligible for the scholarships. The foundation hopes to provide public school students with more minority role models in math and science.
Annette Rickel said she had two reasons for starting the foundation and scholarship. One, community college students needed more attention and support; and two, the city schools have a vast shortage of math and science teachers.
“The students are dealing with other circumstances and trying to find their way into a four-year college,” Rickel, a psychotherapist in private practice and faculty member at Weill Cornell Medical College, said in an interview before a ceremony honoring the four B.M.C.C. winners.
Santos, like many of the other students, struggles with these “other circumstances.” Currently she is raising her two-year-old daughter on her own in their Brooklyn home. She said the scholarship has helped her tremendously because she no longer has to work to pay for school and can focus on her studies and her little girl.
“I think Martha is quite an exceptional person,” Rickel said. “In just a few years, she’s become a leader.”
Santos started the college’s first and only Spanish publication, which she edits.
She said that B.M.C.C. has helped her develop her leadership skills and kept her going through tough times in her life.
“I’ve been about to drop school many times,” Santos said. “But every time I’m down, something good happens in my life.”
Santos said that receiving this scholarship and meeting Rickel have kept her going.
When she went to drop off her scholarship application, Rickel personally came out to take it and greet her.
“Behind this foundation was a person who genuinely cared about giving back to the community,” she said of Rickel.
Santos said that a career in education is about more then money to her, it is about enriching lives and ensuring that children are not scared of math and science later in life.
In Ecuador, Santos had tried to attend college before coming to America. She said it was mainly memorization and she had not been happy with the educational experience in her home country. She moved to America and had been working as a sales associate when her step-father encouraged her to try college again. She enrolled at B.M.C.C. and kept her department store job at first.
“He told me I should look out for my future,” Santos said. “He made me enroll at B.M.C.C. and I liked it. I had good grades. I realized I wanted to be a teacher.”
Santos said that through the work-study program she had begun working in the school’s early childhood center and loved teaching the small children through games and fun activities.
“I was pregnant at the time too, and I loved nurturing them,” she said. She plans to teach math to young children.
Santos said she is not just completing her education for her own future, but now for her daughter’s as well.
“I don’t want her to struggle like I’ve been,” she said. “We’re sacrificing now, but in later years it will be worth it.”
Santos hopes to attend New York University’s Steinhardt School of Education after receiving her associate’s degree this spring.