Sanches Salles earns NJ’s highest honor for student teachers

Priscilla Sanches Salles G’12 could not have imagined the twists and turns her life would take after she came to the U.S. in 2002. The plan was to experience other cultures, improve her English, and return to her native Brazil for a career in journalism. Instead she stayed, put down roots and switched careers, entering Drew’s Master of Arts in Teaching program.

Before even graduating from the program, she landed a job teaching high school Spanish. Then she won the New Jersey Department of Education’s Distinguished Student Teacher Award, honoring the state’s 15 most promising future educators. It was the second year in a row that a Drew student was among the top winners.

“Priscilla’s energy and love for language teaching and learning are contagious,” says advisor Katherine G. Brown, director of English for Speakers of Other Languages at Drew, who nominated her.

It’s a sweet ending, she admits. “I absolutely expected to go back to São Paulo, but opportunities here kept opening up,” says Sanches Salles, 29.

Those opportunities were actually the fruit of lots of hard work. Her eight-year odyssey included two years as an au pair in an exchange program and a stretch at William Paterson University, which accepted many of her credits from the University of Sacred Heart in Brazil. Sanches Salles graduated from William Paterson in 2010, with a major in Spanish language and culture. Her native language is Portuguese, but her grandfather came from Spain. She grew up listening to Spanish, and learned how to read and write it.

Along the way, Sanches Salles did a little journalism, writing for the Brazilian Press in Newark. But once she began volunteering for an English-language course for Hispanic immigrants in Morristown, she found she loved teaching more. Through husband Jonathan Golden, a religion professor at Drew’s Caspersen School of Graduate Studies, she learned about the MAT program. Her student teaching assignment last winter was at Madison Junior High, where her proudest achievement was awakening students’ interest in Spanish culture.

The new job is at Morristown High School, where she will teach Spanish 1, Spanish 2 and Spanish 5 Honors. Orientation for new teachers is Aug. 29. It promises to be a busy year—she’s been asked to teach two Portuguese classes at William Paterson. Sanches Salles is also contemplating obtaining a special needs or ESL certification.

“I remember, when I first came to this country, it was very hard for me to communicate because of the language barrier. I had so many people helping me with my English,” she says. “I almost feel like it’s my turn to help others.”—Mary Jo Patterson