October is National Principals Month and we will feature a handful of our more than 75 campus leaders throughout the month. If we don’t feature your favorite campus leader, please help us celebrate them by sending a “Thank You” message, photo, or video by direct message on Facebook, posting directly on our National Principals Month Facebook post, or tagging ResponsiveEd. #ThankAPrincipal.
Gema Funez is the Campus Director at Eastex-Jensen Classical Academy and a passionate community leader of the Eastex-Jensen neighborhood of Houston, Texas. Her decision to remain in the area and work with the youth of her community is rooted in a decision her family made almost 25 years ago. Like many of her current Eastex-Jensen Classical Academy students, Funez grew up in a Spanish-speaking household, her parents worked in agriculture, and when she was old enough, Funez and her siblings spent hot Texas summers harvesting crops.
“The work was difficult but it taught me the value of hard work,” Funez said. “I knew that I didn’t want to work in agriculture for the rest of my life but I didn’t know the options that were available to me.”
The Funez family’s livelihood was dependent on nature’s timetable and they relocated often as a result. That changed in May of 1997. Funez was about to complete the seventh grade and her family was preparing to move to another community where Funez would attend her twelfth new school in nine years. Those plans were interrupted after the family met with a representative from a new kind of tuition-free public school of choice in the Houston area. The school focused on college preparation for all students independent of income or background and for the first time Funez began to consider college, a career, and a future. Despite the uncertainty, Funez’s parents decided to stay and give their children the educational opportunities they were not offered in their childhood. With an internal drive to succeed and the work ethic instilled by her parents, Funez would persist through high school, college to receive a bachelor’s degree from The University of Houston Downtown, and a master’s degree from The University of St. Thomas.
Almost 25 years since Ms. Funez was first introduced to the idea of college as a seventh-grader living in the Northside of Houston, her decision to stay shouldn’t be surprising. Staying invested in the growth of her local community has led her to a rewarding career as a campus director and giving back by making education a priority for other families. Under the leadership of Funez, college awareness has been taken to the next level for students. Funez and her team promote a college-bound culture starting in kindergarten, but they also prepare them for the social and emotional rigors they will face throughout their lives. Through corporate and community partnerships, students at Eastex-Jensen Classical Academy are exposed to cultural and social experiences that may be different from their own. These experiences help students acquire strong social skills and make them receptive to people of different backgrounds. On-campus, they focus on interpersonal partnerships and teach students to deal with conflict in a healthy way.
“At Eastex-Jensen Classical Academy we introduce students to a variety of cultures and experiences, engage in service to our community, we partner with our families, and we empower students to be culturally responsive,” Ms. Funez said. “We are not punitive, we support students where they are in their life-journey because studies show how important a supportive environment can be for young people. I also know firsthand how impactful the belief of adults can be in the lives of young people.”
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