The Bristol Association of Retired Teachers presented both Ashlynn Jefferson of Bristol Eastern High School and Derek Mason of Bristol Central High School $2,000 scholarships each on Wednesday, May 1.
In order to qualify for the BART scholarship, applicants must have the intention of pursuing a career in education, must have an academic average in the top 25 percent of their graduating class, a letter of recommendation from a counselor or teacher, and must list their educational and community activities. Students were then asked to submit an essay that details why they want to become teachers, as well as reference a teacher that influenced their decision, explained Barbara Wojtusik, co-chair of the BART scholarship committee.
Both Jefferson and Mason intend to pursue careers in special education when they attend Central Connecticut State University and the University of Connecticut, respectively, this coming fall.
“I think what impressed me about both of these young people is that not only did they study hard, they were excellent students – superior students, won awards – but they walk the walk,” said Alexandra Mikan Beal, co-chair of the scholarship committee. “They were interested in something and they carried through. It was more than just saying, “I want to do this,” they were already working to pursue their goals.”
Mason has played baseball for three years at Central, as well as through Bristol Parks and Recreation, and the American Legion. He also coaches and instructs baseball through the Parks and Recreation league. He is a member of the student council, the Interact Club, the Excel Club, the National Honor Society, the Spanish National Honor Society, and the RAM-bassador program, a senior mentoring program for freshmen.
Mason will be attending the University of Connecticut where he will major in special education. He hopes to attain his bachelor’s degree in special education for grades kindergarten through 12, and a master’s degree in educational psychology. His goal is to teach reading for special education at the high school level.
“Go for it,” Mason offered to any students interested in pursuing education. “think about exactly what you would want to do right away and then try to master and work with those kinds of children and get experience with those children.”
Jefferson said she has been working with special education students most of her life. She has been an active member of Unified Sports for the past nine years. Three years ago, she became a member of Unified Arts, a program that she says offers a great opportunity for special education students to have a creative outlet.
She was recently recognized by the Bristol Board of Education for her fundraising efforts to help support Unified Sports and Possibility Theater. She explained Possibility Theater is a new program that allows differently-abled students a creative outlet. She said she was able to help raise $2,350, by hosting a craft fair.
“They’ve been such a major part of my life, it feels good to give back to them,” said Jefferson.
In the fall, she will head to CCSU where she will major in mathematics for secondary education. From there she plans to pursue her masters, and then return to Bristol Eastern to complete her student teaching. Ultimately, she hopes to become a special education teacher.
Jefferson offered a bit of advice to anyone who plans to become a teacher, “ Go for those scholarships, there’s so many available for education. There’s an abundance of them. I would tell anybody to do all of them, definitely apply for scholarships, that’s why I’m here.”
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Taylor Murchison-Gallagher, email her at TMurchison@BristolObserver.com.