First Generation Wheelock Student Becomes a Leader

Ava Jennings

Ava Jennings, Wheelock '12, is a tireless advocate of social justice Hometown: Dorchester

Major: Human Growth and Development with a focus in Children, Families and Culture and an Early Childhood Education professional major.


Not only is Ava the first in her family to attend college, her efforts during high school earned her a Passion For Action scholarship here at Wheelock, and she is at the top of her class at Wheelock. When Ava first came to college she didn’t know what to expect. No one else in her family had gone to college, so Ava had no idea what it would be like. Knowing that her scholarship was at stake, and without the scholarship she would not be able to complete college, Ava aimed all her energy on school work, and today she is at the top of her graduating class.

Experiences at Wheelock:

Ava was excited to share her experiences working in classrooms in Boston Public Schools. She said that at first it felt weird to be back in the BPS elementary schools, but not as a student this time. She also explained that she felt proud teaching in BPS because teachers of color are needed in the classroom. Diverse teachers help ensure that students will be able to relate to their teachers. Teachers can also help students develop a positive self image and serve as a role model to students. With a diverse group of students, there is a need for a diverse pool of teachers.


In high school Ava participated in Teen Voices between the ages of 13 and 15. During her sophomore year of high school Ava joined “Teach Boston” as a teaching assistant. She took part in rigorous academic work in the John D. O’Bryant School, but she only received a 2.7 GPA in high school and was concerned that she wouldn’t be able to keep up with the work and maintain her scholarship.

Influential Wheelock Contact:

Ceronne Daly! “All these great things happened and it’s all thanks to Ceronne. She was my mentor from high school through college. She helped me believe in myself. She showed me how great of a person I am, and she taught me to embrace it.”


Ava explained that it is not always easy to put school first, and also to be proud in your work. She said that she noticed a big change in her self from high school to college. Today, she is open about sharing how much she enjoys her program, “I’m proud, and I deserve it.”

Service work:

Freshman year – Participated in College Access / Student Success program. She showed urban students the Wheelock campus, exposing students to college at an earlier age so they can realize that college can be an option for them. Ava participated in the New Orleans service learning trips in the Summer of 2010 and January, 2011. During the first trip with Upward Bound she chaperoned a group of high school students. In 2011 Ava went to NOLA with Passion For Action scholars. She learned how to put up drywall in a house she was helping to rebuild. Despite the freezing January temperatures in the uninsulated construction area, Ava remembers being dedicated to putting up that drywall – sometimes even taking down the wall if it was not done properly and redoing the work. “Despite the cold, we had fun.” Ava also explains how amazing it was meeting the mother and little boy who would eventually live in the home she was helping to build.

In the Summer of 2011 Ava went to West Africa. She describes it as very different from anywhere else. What struck her the most was that despite the poor living conditions, everyone there was always smiling. For Ava the trip was extra special because of her connection to West Africa. Ava explained that her father was Nigerian, but she didn’t grow up with her father, so it was nice to learn about her heritage. “I learned about my country – it was a personal connection and a spiritual connection.”

Future Plans:

Ava “wants to see a socially-just society.” She sees society today as still organized in a hierarchy where some people aren’t ever expected to move up from the bottom. Her efforts to change this will come in teaching. “Educate the child. Let them know that they can do anything – this has to start in early childhood practice.” She wants to become a role model to her students and show them, even the youngest ones, that college is an option for them because it was an option for her. Ava explains that her mother wasn’t able to help her with her college applications, because her mother had never applied to college. Ava wants to help students like herself, students who need to see that they can go college.


Ava, such well-deserved recognition. It was an honor to work with you this year and I look forward to watching you become a leader in the field of education. All my best, Susan

Posted @ Monday, May 07, 2012 9:40 PM by Susan Zoll