Auliilani De La Cruz wants her students to know that failure is not a dead end. You might get a math problem wrong, but it happens to everyone. What matters is how you respond. A MESA Math Teacher at Mariner High School in Everett, Washington, Ms. De La Cruz teaches that failure should bring no stigma — it is, instead, a learning opportunity.

Ms. De La Cruz inherited the MESA program from the previous MESA teacher, and she quickly found that she loved it. For her, MESA makes teaching math easier and more enjoyable, providing real world activities and scenarios. As a teacher, she does not want to teach out of a book — she wants her students to experience math first-hand. MESA makes that happen. “Students meet people out in the community who are doing that work,” she says. Students go on field trips, they try the work for themselves. “At the end of the year,” she says, “they want to become an engineer, nurse, doctor..”

That isn’t to say that becoming an engineer, nurse, or doctor is easy to do. But the message Ms. De La Cruz gives all her classes is, “You’re going to struggle, but at the end of the day you want to give it a try, and even if you mess up at least you’ll learn something.” It is in this classroom that students are not made to feel bad if they don’t know the right answer, but instead are encouraged to experiment.

For the MESA program to be successful, Ms. De La Cruz believes that the teacher’s enthusiasm is vital. “You can’t just put someone in that position and hope that everything goes well,” she says. “You can have the best activities and the best after-school program, but if the teacher is not passionate about it, the kids won’t buy into it.”

For teachers interested in participating in MESA, Ms. De La Cruz has one thing she wants them to know: “They have to have their heart in the right place for this,” she says. “It’s for the students. ”

Ms. De La Cruz, a graduate from the school where she is now teaching, not only teaches her students about integers and exponents, but she works to empower her students in everything they do. “People may not tell you that you’re great,” she says. “But they think it!”

If you are interested in becoming a MESA Teacher or would like more information or if you are interested in volunteering at one of the MESA In-Class sites, please contact Martha at MESA Teachers are always happy to have volunteers in their classrooms.