KEARNEY – Jazmin Urbina has loved to learn since she was a small child. 

As a 5-year-old, Urbina immigrated to the United States with her parents and brothers. She only spoke Spanish. 

Urbina enjoyed learning to speak and read English at her elementary school in Iowa, where she was part of the English as a second language program from kindergarten through fourth grade. 

If she didn’t understand an assignment, she relied on friends to translate for her. She also practiced at home with her English-speaking cousins. 

Urbina loved her math lessons and taking part in hands-on activities, too. She vividly remembers making applesauce with her classmates in second grade and having parties themed after books they read at school. 

At home, Urbina liked playing school with her one older and four younger brothers. She was always the teacher who gave her brothers problems to solve. 

Her childhood experiences influenced her decision to pursue higher education after graduating from Gibbon High School and to study elementary education with an ESL endorsement. 

“I loved school. I loved my teachers. I can’t remember having a teacher I didn’t like,” Urbina said. “I feel like that had a very big impact on me.” 

Urbina graduated Friday from the University of Nebraska at Kearney with her Bachelor of Arts in Education. But before she walked across the commencement stage, the first-generation college student was persistent in following her dream. 

Urbina applied for scholarships and admission to UNK on her own. She received the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation Scholarship, which paid for tuition. Her room and board were covered by the Bilingual Educators Scholarship awarded through UNK’s Office of Student Diversity and Inclusion. 

“If I didn’t receive scholarships, I don’t know where I’d be right now,” she said. 

Without UNK, Urbina may not have grown as a young adult. Her involvement in the Office of Student Diversity and Inclusion, Thompson Scholars Learning Community and TRIO Student Support Services taught her money management,resume writing and other skills. She was also active in the Sigma Lambda Beta sorority, Social Justice League and Hispanic Student Association. 

Urbina made an impact in the classroom while student teaching this fall at Outley Elementary School, part of the Alief Independent School District in Houston, Texas. 

UNK has partnered with the Alief district for more than 25 years. It offers an urban teaching experience in one of the most ethnically diverse school systems in Texas, which attracted Urbina to the job. The district also pays its student teachers $13.29 an hour. 

Urbina had the opportunity to use her ESL endorsement in the third grade classroom, which included children from many ethnic backgrounds, including Vietnamese, Hispanic and African American. Teachers came from many different backgrounds, as well. 

“Being from a different culture, I walked in there and literally cried. ‘Oh my God, I feel like I actually belong here,’” Urbina said. “You don’t see very many teachers that look like you, especially growing up. Being in a very diverse school with so many teachers of different ethnicities really touched me.” 

Under the guidance of her cooperating teacher, Jung Banh, Urbina taught English to Spanish- and Vietnamese-speaking children. That was a rewarding experience. 

“I was little once and I came here not knowing any English at all,” Urbina said. “Now I’m older and can give back to the little kids. I was once in their shoes. I know how they feel.” 

Additionally, Urbina taught math, science, grammar, reading and writing to the third graders. Banh taught her how to be a better teacher. 

“She always said don’t assume the kids know how to use a pencil. Because of COVID last year, the kids fell behind and we had to show them how to use a pencil, marker or eraser,” Urbina said. 

Organization was key in the classroom, so Urbina wasn’t stressed as a student teacher. 

“I felt very prepared, because UNK goes above and beyond to prepare us with lesson plans,” she said. “They overprepare us.” 

Urbina was offered a full-time job with the Alief school district starting this spring. Though she loved the school and the city, she isn’t ready to commit to being that far from her family. She will consider taking a full-time position there in the fall, but next semester she plans to substitute teach near home while continuing to influence her siblings. 

Her youngest brother, also a third grader, often video chats with Urbina to get help with his homework. 

“He’s very proud. He’s always like, ‘My sister is a teacher.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m a teacher,’” Urbina said.