Social Studies teacher receives prestigious fellowship


courtesy @shorewoodschools on Instagram

Fellowship winners to attend program at Georgetown University

Every year, only two educators of color across the nation are offered the Frederick Douglass-James Madison Fellowship award, a $24,000 scholarship for a graduate program in a field studying the Constitution. This year,  Jesse Perez, who teaches American Society, was chosen.

“Along with the master’s scholarship, which I’m still deciding on a program for, [winners] get the opportunity to connect with like-minded professors and teachers at Georgetown University in the summer for six weeks,” Perez said. “We’ll also get to meet some members of Congress and study under one of the nine Supreme Court justices.”

In addition to this, Perez has been appointed to the Wisconsin Council for the Social Studies Board of Directors, an organization of social studies teachers affiliated with the National Council for the Social Studies. Its goals are to better serve teachers, offer opportunities in professional development, and promote greater social understanding worldwide.

We’ll…get to meet some members of Congress and study under one of the 9 Supreme Court Justices.

The Friday before the results were released, the James Madison Memorial Fellowship Foundation announced that winners would begin to receive their awards by mail. The following Monday, Perez came home to find a box waiting on the doorstep.

“When my wife got home, I told her, ‘you have to read this, because if it’s a rejection letter, I’ll cry, but probably also cry if it’s the other way around,’” Perez said. “We opened it to find out that I was indeed accepted.”

Perez described not only the extensive work involved in the application process, but what lies ahead to accept it as well. Applicants were required to write a total of three essays and submit pages of paperwork, resumes, and college transcripts. 

“The essays were the most time-consuming part,” Perez said. “It took me until the day of because I was still tweaking things. This was easily the most difficult application I’ve ever filled out.”

Perez expressed gratitude for the encouragement of his peers, family, and friends all the way through the process, even dedicating one of his essays to his mom and the hardships he had to face early on in life. Despite this, he also recognizes how fortunate he has been to have so many shoulders to lean on.

“[When I found out I won], I called my mom and we just had a good cry for a while over the phone,” Perez said. “I gave my heart and soul to the application, but it still blows my mind that I was picked.”

I wouldn’t be here without the incredible support of my fellow teachers, community members, and students.

The community response has been overwhelmingly positive. From enjoying treats with his advisory in celebration, receiving cards and emails congratulating him, and the announcement drumming up much excitement in general, it’s safe to say Shorewood emphatically agrees with the decision.

“The entire social studies department has always been so supportive of me – even teachers down at the middle school have previously pointed me in the right direction and reached out to congratulate me,” Perez said. “Even once the announcement was put out there, so many community members were like, ‘we got your back on this’ … There’s just so much support here in Shorewood, and I think that’s what sets it apart.”

As for what lies ahead, the coming years look particularly busy for Perez. The in-person Georgetown program and his master’s degree are quickly approaching as the school year comes to a close, both scheduled for next summer and either fall or spring respectively. Despite these opportunities, he plans to remain in Shorewood.

“I wouldn’t be here without the incredible support of my fellow teachers, community members, and students,” Perez said. “The whole purpose of me winning this was to bring the knowledge I acquired during my master’s back to you all.”