Ray’Von Jones ’16 believes in challenges. She often tells her twelfth grade history students, “If someone’s not challenging you, it’s because they think you can’t do the work, and that should be an insult to you,” a philosophy that she applies to her pupils because it was once applied to her too.
Jones had always had behavioral issues, from getting sent out of class in elementary school to getting suspended in high school. Those problems were only some of the obstacles she felt were standing between her and her goal of attending Notre Dame.
“It was always something that seemed out of reach for a few reasons,” she says. “One being I’m a lower income student. My mother was a single mother. She had me when she was 19. And then I also am a black woman. So there were a lot of things in terms of me interacting with a lot of stereotypes in school about what my potential was and what I was capable of.”
Around her freshman year of high school, Jones had lost sight of her aspirations, but after she moved to a new school, she rediscovered her sense of drive.
“I started fresh, and at that point I told myself, ‘I’m going to get all A’s. I’m going to make it to Notre Dame,’” she says. “I was able to turn things around. I came across some really great teachers in high school who helped me do that.”
Discovering a Passion for Education
At Notre Dame, feeling pressure to strive for a financially lucrative career, Jones started out as pre-med. But as time went on, she found she wanted to study something that made her “excited to go to class in the morning.” The sources of her excitement turned out to be sociology, Spanish, and education. The classes she took for her education minor were illuminating, but also familiar.
“We were talking about a lot of issues with our education system, and for me, that exposed me to a lot of realities that I had already known,” she says. “Many people at Notre Dame went to private school, and Catholic schools specifically, whereas for me, this was my life.”
Discussing the implications of her experiences in the classroom helped Jones decide to pursue a career in education.
“I knew moving forward, I cared about our nation’s public schools, and I cared about the students who attend those schools, and I wanted them to have access to the things that I came to have access to, like this privilege I gained from going to Notre Dame,” she says.
Preparing Students for Success
After graduating from Notre Dame, Jones earned a Master’s Degree in Secondary Education from Stanford University. She now teaches government at a high school in Oakland, California, where she helps address the shortcomings she has seen and experienced in education.
“The reality is, I get people who are in twelfth grade who you can tell were failed in their education before,” she says. “So even in twelfth grade, I’m having to rebuild some confidence and say ‘I don’t believe that you’re bad at history. I’m not going to take that as a response from you.’”
Jones also stresses the importance of racial representation in public schools, both in the teaching force and in the curriculum.
“I didn’t remember learning much black history in school,” she says. “That was something that I identified as a problem, and that’s why I’m a history teacher, because I think every student deserves to read about themselves at some point in history or in literature.”
In addition, Jones has made an effort to prepare her seniors, who are mostly students of color, to enter a college environment where they may no longer be in the majority.
“I can say that I have been a person of color and I’ve been the only one in my classes,” she says. “And I can talk to you about what that feels like because I’ve experienced it. Or I was a low-income student at a university that’s very expensive. So I’m having those conversations, and helping them so that they don’t go into it as blind as I did.”
In teaching, Jones has found a way to apply her unique perspective, her drive, and her passion for social justice—traits she’s happy to see in her pupils as she pushes them to succeed.
“One myth I think people have about students who are in schools in urban environments is that they don’t really care about school,” she says. “But I have students every day asking me about grades. They want to know, ‘How can I improve my grades?’ And they care so much, and their dreams are so large, so that’s inspiring to me. They bring a perspective that’s so justice-oriented and they also have a real desire to give back to their families and to their communities.”