Photo of West Riverside Elementary teacher Gabriella Solano holding a flower bouqet

West Riverside Elementary teacher named inaugural Wolfburg Fellow for Social Justice

(Editor’s Note – The following is reposted with permission from the Jacksonville Public Education Fund. Visit www.jpef.org or contact Stephanie Garry Garfunkel at stephanie@jaxpef.org for more information.)

Sept. 16, 2020 — Gabriella Solano, a teacher at West Riverside Elementary, was named the inaugural Wolfburg Fellow for Social Justice in Education on Tuesday during a surprise virtual announcement at her school.

Ms. Solano teaches Spanish language arts and science for fourth and fifth grade students in the dual language program at West Riverside Elementary. As the first Wolfburg Fellow, Ms. Solano will receive a total value of at least $7,000 for professional learning, including participation in JPEF’s Teacher Leadership Initiative, and a classroom research project to explore issues of identity and representation with her students.

“Diversity and inclusion are two of the main reasons I became a teacher,” Ms. Solano wrote in her application. “As a Latina who was underrepresented in school, I experienced first hand what it was like to not feel included and validated in school. As I learned more in my undergraduate course work, I knew I wanted to choose a career that could affect change. Education has the power to create an enormous impact on these issues.”

The Wolfburgs created the Fellowship, which is administered by the Jacksonville Public Education Fund and awarded to one teacher annually, in recognition of the diverse fabric of the their family and to create an inclusive, supportive and loving community for all individuals and families within our community. Brian Wolfburg is the CEO of VyStar Credit Union, the largest credit union headquartered in Northeast Florida.

On Tuesday, the Wolfburgs joined a virtual all-staff meeting at West Riverside to make the announcement. JPEF arranged for a bouquet of flowers to be delivered to the door of her home, where she is teaching virtually, just as she learned the news of her selection.

“In this moment, it is clear we must celebrate and acknowledge both the progress that has been made and the work yet to do in advancing justice and equality for all people,” said Jake and Brian Wolfburg. “Ms. Solano stands out as a leader who embodies the kind of compassion and duty to one another we need. The impact teachers have on our children and our community cannot be overstated. We are excited to celebrate, honor, and invest in Ms. Solano’s passion for inspiring her students to listen and think critically about diversity, equity and inclusion so they may inspire others to do the same. We are beyond excited to work with Ms. Solano, our inaugural fellow, over the coming year.”

In a program of Ms. Solano’s own design, the Fellowship will allow Ms. Solano to travel to a teaching conference next summer, attend webinars by Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, and lead a photography project with her class. The students will take photographs that explore their lives and identities, and then compare how people of their backgrounds are portrayed in the media. As part of the project, Ms. Solano will survey students to assess what they’ve learned about diversity and inclusion through the artwork. She will also participate in JPEF’s Teacher Leadership Initiative, which provides teachers of the year with professional learning and coaching on action research projects designed to impact education equity in schools across the district.

“I couldn’t be prouder to support Ms. Solano and the Wolfburgs in bringing the vision of the Wolfburg Fellowship to life,” said Rachael Tutwiler Fortune, JPEF President. “At JPEF, we believe public education is inherently social justice work, and this unique fellowship is exactly the investment in teacher leaders we need to help all students achieve their potential, no matter their background or identity.”