Roberto German 00:00
Welcome to our classroom. In this space, we talk about education, which is inclusive of, but not limited to what happens in schools. Education is taking place whenever and wherever we are willing to learn. I am your host, Roberto German. And our classroom is officially in session. So we have Jenny Suriel here. Somebody I've known for a long time and just seen a lot of growth, and I thought it would be great to have her on the platform to share with you all a bit about herself as an educator, but also a bit about herself as an entrepreneur. So many things that people do, that educators do besides the classroom work, that connect to education in general. And so that's part of what I'm trying to do here with these IG lives, is bring people on to learn about the different talents, different journeys different types of education that we experience. So that hopefully we're all learning and growing from one another. Right? This is something that we do in conjunction. So, Jenny, thank you for being here. Wanna start by just giving you an opportunity to share a little bit with us about who you are and how it is that you self-identify, and where are you from. So, again, who are you, how do you self-identify, and where are you from?
Jenny Suriel 01:43
Awesome. I am Jenny. Nice to meet you all. I am Dominican American, born and raised in Lawrence, Mass, which is I love Rob's shirt. There you go. There you go. Lawrence kid. I'm about to like, jump into, sorry. Like I said, born and raised in Lawrence, Mass. I am a baker. I'm also an educator. I work full-time at Lawrence High School. So just happy to be here with you guys, sharing a little bit about myself and what I do.
Roberto German 02:20
Awesome. Awesome. And so why don't you share with us how it is that you got into the field of education. Where are you currently serving, and what is your role? So how do you get into education? Where are you serving? What is your role?
Jenny Suriel 02:41
So I am currently-- I'm going in my own little order over here. I'm currently serving as the Dean of Restorative Justice at En Lase. En Lase is the newcomer ninth grade program at Lawrence High School. And in terms of how I got into education, it's something that kinda like, runs-- runs in the blood, runs in the family. I come from a family of educators. My dad was an educator growing up. My mom was as well. And I grew up seeing that example, seeing my dad, seeing the love for teaching. I remember being seven, eight years old and on, you know, random days my dad would take me into work with him. And watching him teach was the most amazing thing for me to watch. It was just seeing the way that he was able to engage and connect with his students was something that really was very meaningful for me growing up. being able to see that. And then, you know, fast forward to high school, which is when I kind of really decided like, this is probably what I wanna do long term or what I wanna do for the rest of my life. And one of the reasons, or one of the things that really made me develop that desire and that love to-- sorry, that desire to come back and to work in a community like Lawrence was my own education and my own personal experience being a product of Lawrence Public Schools as well as [inaudible 00:04:08] Public Schools. And, you know, growing up I didn't have very many teachers who looked like me, my principals didn't look like me. I could probably count on one hand the amount of BIPOC educators that I had growing up. And that was definitely one of the main reasons why I wanted to go into this field. I wanted to be able to support my students in ways that maybe I would've loved to be supported. I wanted to be able to come back and work with students that have similar backgrounds as mine, students who have similar goals as mine. And that's really where my love for this and my passion for education kind of was born and developed.
Roberto German 04:51
Hmm. That's awesome. That's awesome. And we're so grateful that you came back to the Lawrence community to serve the Lawrence community. The young people definitely need more folks like you that are from the community that understands how to navigate the community, that understand the experience, the journey, the immigrant story, all of that. So they're fortunate to have you. You're a great asset. I want you to-- actually, I wanna back up a little bit 'cause you mentioned your father, his involvement as an educator kind of modeled that for you, inspired you in that way in a sense. But you come from family educators, you know. 'Cause I know that your brother's also an educator.
Jenny Suriel 05:31
This is true.
Roberto German 05:32
And so, you know, multiple educators in the family. Your brother's an educator, administrator. And so I think it's important for people to hear that. You know what I'm saying? That people, when they're hearing our stories that they're hearing the type of impact that we have, the multiple roles that we take on that we don't just take on the roles that are portrayed through the media. Right? That here you have a family where at least three people have been involved in the education system in Lawrence, Massachusetts, having a direct impact on the young people and at the community at large.
Jenny Suriel 06:09
Roberto German 06:11
So tell us a little bit about your bakery business, Amor y Azucar. When did you start it? What inspired you to start the business? And really, I wanna get into this because I think it's important for people to understand that folks in the classroom, that's one aspect of who they are, right? That's one piece of how we show up as educators. But there are many things, many endeavors that we take on outside of our role as educators, outside of our role as classroom teachers or administrators and whatnot. And so I think it's important for people to hear about that also are multiple hustles and what it is that's drawing us to that. So, if you could tell us a little bit about your bakery business, Amor y Azucar. When did you start it? What inspired you to start the business? Let's start there.
Jenny Suriel 07:09
Absolutely. So Amor y Azucar really started as a hobby baking. I've always loved baking. I've always loved hosting. I've always loved cooking for friends. Rob, you know, about that. And it really just started that way as me getting into this hobby being really, really bad at it at initially, but forcing my friends and family to try all my stuff. You know, trial and error. And, you know, the birth of Amor y Azucar I would really mark sometime at the beginning of all this, of the pandemic, you know, during that time where everybody was baking bread at home there was no flour or sugar to be found on the shelves. But even though I always really loved baking, it was something I always enjoyed doing. I never really had the time to do it. You know what working in a school is like. You know, what the school year's like. It's a very busy time. And I didn't really have the time to really sharpen my skills or really do more of what I enjoyed doing because of that. But the pandemic gave us all a lot of downtime. It gave us all a lot of time to just be home, to reflect, to figure out what things we wanted, what things we liked, what things we didn't like. And baking was one of those things that I kind of like picked up again at the beginning of the pandemic. And I remember specifically, April, the month of April, it was my friend Elias' birthday, [inaudible 00:08:38] you're around there, much love. And I was like, Hey, why not? I haven't baked a cake in years, but I'll just bake his cake because I have nothing better to do. We're all in lockdown. So I baked that cake for him. He, you know, we all know the power of social media posted it on Instagram, and from there people were like, "Oh my God, where is that? Where can I get it? That looks good. That looks great." And at this point, I was very much, you know, a hobby baker. I didn't even think that I would be selling my cakes at some point. And people, you know, started messaging me, started contacting me, saying, "Hey, like, I saw that cake you made, that looks really cool. Like, I didn't know you baked." And my response would kinda be like, "Well, I don't. Like, that was just for fun. I'm not selling that." Until some point, you know, later that month, I kind of cracked, I guess, so to speak. And somebody messaged me and was like, "Hey, like, I really want a cake this way, that way." And I was like, "You know what? Sure. Like, why not?" And then from there, it just kind of I ran with it. You know, people were seeing my work. People were tasting my cakes at different gatherings. I was getting contacted by people that I just never even imagined would've tasted my cakes. And, you know, at that point, I kind of realized, you know, I have something here. There's something here that people like, that people enjoy. Like I said, I've always really loved feeding people. And we all know that the best part of feeding people is seeing their reaction, their response. And that was something that really motivated me to keep, you know, exploring different flavors, trying different designs, trying different combinations. And, you know, I reached the point where I had to put the fear aside and put the anxiety aside, because that is definitely what held me back up until that point. And just say, you know, this is something that people enjoy that I enjoy doing. Why not, you know, make a small business out of this. And, you know, since then, the support has been amazing. I am eternally grateful to my friends, to my family for the support that they've given me. Eternally grateful to my community for the support that they've given me. And it's really just been amazing to see the way that this has taken off in just a little over a year. I would say that my official start date was May, 2020. That was when I officially started taking orders on a pretty much weekly basis. So this is still a baby, still relatively new.
Roberto German 11:04
That's right. Listen, I, you know, and I want people to really catch what you said in terms of, you know, she didn't go into this-- Jenny did not go into this to start a business. This was a hobby. And the pandemic presented an opportunity to take this hobby and turn it into a business. One 'cause she was afforded the time, but also because there was great interest, there was a demand for what you were doing. And the product is great. I could vouch for that. The product is top of the line, people. So if you're in the Lawrence, Mass area, you gotta hit Jenny up. Or if she's traveling and you happen to have a mix up, you can invite her into your house and ask her to make your cake. 'Cause that's what I would do. That's what I'd do. So, listen so much I wanna get into. As a self-taught baker and business owner, small business owner, how did you obtain the necessary skills? Because there's people who might wanna start a bakery business or might wanna become a consultant or might wanna do something else, but they might not have the confidence. They might not have the insight. They might have some barriers in front of them that have prevented them, but I, you know, I wanna hear about how it is that you obtain the necessary skills to run your business.
Jenny Suriel 12:27
Absolutely. You know, this is something that I'm always very, very transparent about. And that those close to me have heard me say this a number of times you know. Before Amor y Azucar began, during that period of time where I was, I like to say I was in denial about this talent, I guess, and this ability that I have. Because I was just like, no, like, I'm not that good. Like, there's no way that I could charge people for my cakes. Like, they're not there yet. And again, that was all part of that fear that I had, that fear of failure, that fear of actually trying, and then maybe not succeeding. But then, you know, I reached that point where I was like, like I said, this is something that I enjoy and that I wanna continue doing. And, you know, I'm not gonna say it was easy because it wasn't, it was a lot of crying, I remember that. And I've shared that before, that there were times where, you know, I would be working on a cake, and I was like, I have no idea what I'm doing. I said yes to this order. I thought I would figure it out. And now here I am. And in all sincerity, it required lots of research, lots of investigating what would work, what would not, lots of trial and error. Not giving up. You know, there was a point, I think this was Mother's Day where I made this cake and everything was just falling apart. It just was not working. It was really hot out. My frosting was melting. And this was very early on. You know, I wasn't at a point where I could kinda look at the situation, assess it, and come up with a solution and figure it out. So all I did was break down.
And I remember that my client was coming to pick up their cake probably in like 30 minutes. The cake wasn't ready. I was crying. I was like, "What am I gonna do? What am I gonna do? This is what I feared. This is the failure that I feared." And, you know, it just really took me kind of stopping, breathing, to removing myself a little from that situation, because I think it's what we need to do in situations like that where we're unable to see like, no, there's a solution. You got this. And then just really, like, take a step back, evaluate the situation, and then just jump back in. Try my best. And like I said, if I had to kind of state the top the top things that, you know, this required was just persistence. Understanding that if I wanted to reach a certain level, if I wanted my work to reach a certain level, it was gonna require work, and it was gonna require practice, and it was gonna require trial and error, and it was gonna require lots of humility to understand that I don't know it all, that I needed to reach out maybe to people who didn't know or to find different resources that could help me improve my craft. So I definitely did take some time to just do that, to work on it, to practice it. As I've shared before, I am self-taught. I'm a self-taught baker. Everything that I've learned has been through just watching YouTube videos. YouTube is your best friend. Practicing, the amount of cakes that I've dropped off at like my family's house, because it was just a practice cake. And just that kind of investment into working on and developing that craft.
Roberto German 15:41
Yeah. There's a lot of gems that you just gave us. So a few things I wanna highlight. If you ever wanna do a practice cake on the [inaudible 00:15:54] Dominican cake, we will gladly receive it over here in my household.
Jenny Suriel 15:59
Got it. Got it.
Roberto German 16:01
You mentioned a number of things that I've written about, you know, in the poems that I published and whatnot. One of them was centered around fear and failure. And I have a piece I published Fear Factor. And I have another one, Failure to Thrive. And I think it's important for people to hear this because fear is a paralyzer. Fear is a paralyzer and failure, you know, I've always looked at it, not always, but for a long time, I've looked at failure as a matter of perspective, right? That failure can inform our success if we allow it to. But if we're afraid of failing, then we're never gonna be able to maximize the potential of our success. And so, kudos to you for being willing to trip up and being willing to, you know, mess up with the cakes and whatnot. I mean, you mentioned crying at one point, and, you know, it's 30 minutes before the client's supposed to arrive. And, you know, and I wish young people were on here listening to this, because when I'm listening to you describe that scene, what I'm hearing is self-regulation, right? You know, and we could make this an SEL thing or whatnot. But you describe, like, you had a conflict, right? So you had a problem, you had to figure out a solution. You didn't know the answer at the moment, you broke down. But then you stepped back, you thought about it, you did your breathing, and then you started to problem solve. You started to identify ways that you can address this situation, right? So being solution oriented. And so that's awesome. That's a nugget for the teachers. That's a nugget for the young people. You know, I wanna hear a little bit about your schooling experience and how it helps support your success today. Or how the lack of experience in your schooling impacted you. So how did your schooling experience support your success today? Or, you know, what were the things in your schooling experience that you lacked that would have benefited you?
Jenny Suriel 18:21
Absolutely. You know, one of those things that you often hear, right? When people talk about schooling and when people talk about education is the type of curriculum that's being taught in school, the type of things that we learn in school. I hear my kids all the time, ninth graders, by the way, do not enjoy algebra. They don't really like algebra. So many times I have a kid in my office and we're having a conversation about, like, "Miss, like, I'm never gonna need the Pythagorean theorem in the real world. Like, why is this important? Why do I need to focus? Why do I need to pay attention?" Or like, "Miss, I'm never gonna need this, this text, right? That we're reading, that we're analyzing in class." And part of what I share with them is, "You know what? I thought the same thing. When I was your age, when I was a student, I had those same exact thoughts, those same exact feelings. And yet here we are. No, I don't necessarily use the Pythagorean theorem every day. No, I probably don't you know, go around reciting perhaps some of the literature that I've read through high school." But those were things that helped me nurture my mind, expand my mind, right? That helped me look at a problem and figure out, all right, I have an issue at hand. I'm not just gonna give up. I'm gonna figure out what the steps are to solve this. So I really think that that just problem solving, those like analytical skills are something that I'm definitely grateful to have experienced, you know, in my formal education.
I do think that in terms of things that I wish I would have had, things that I wish that would've been differently, I can go back to what I shared earlier on when we began this live and, and just not necessarily feeling supported as a young Dominican student in the United States who, you know, I was born and raised in this country, as I mentioned, but moved to the Dominican Republic at the age of nine, came back to the United States at the age of 12, missed out, you know, on three years of American schooling. And I remember coming back and just feeling like I wasn't as smart as my peers, maybe because I couldn't speak English as well as them 'cause, you know, we know how important those three years are. I was gone for fifth, sorry, sixth, seventh, and eighth grade. Sorry, fifth, sixth, and seventh grade. And I remember coming back and like being placed in the ESL classes. And almost like being ostracized because of that, you know. I remember kids being like, "Oh, she's with the kids that don't speak English, but like, she does speak English." And like, not understanding why it was there. And this all, you know, ties back to just the need for support, the need for representation, the need for understanding the different needs of our students, the needs, you know-- Of one of the things that working with my students, working with the population of students that I work with one of the things that is most damaging and that I've seen happen, that I've heard happen is people talk about like kids not having the ability to do certain things because they're not fluent in English, or kids not being able to work on certain types of content because they don't speak English as if one thing had to do with the other, as if intelligence was measured by language. So this just kind of all ties back to just really wanting to, or wishing that I would've had that modeling and that support earlier on. So that at a younger age, I could have known and understood that I too was capable, that I too could reach you know, my goals and my dreams in a way that, you know, we work now to make sure that our students know and that our students feel supported through.
Roberto German 22:04
Hmm. Yeah. So giving the students hope, giving them support, giving them direction, helping them to identify their strengths and believe that they can maximize their potential, guiding them in mastering the skills that will translate into their success in the college, university, or whatever level of training they-- and education they decide to pursue. 'Cause not everybody's gonna go the traditional route.
Jenny Suriel 22:38
Right. And not lowering our expectations for these students based on our perception of them, right? Based on sometimes the biases that we have of this group of students or of this population of students, really holding them to the same expectations that we hold, you know, other students in our school. And, you know, 'cause when we do otherwise, we're failing them. We're failing them. We are telling them that they are not smart enough because, you know, they can't access the language necessarily. Or that, you know, sometimes making them feel as though a scaffold or a modification is something that says something negatively about them as opposed to just being another measure of supporting them in their growth and in their learning.
Roberto German 23:18
And just 'cause you got into some of what you experienced in your role as Director of Restorative Justice at [inaudible 00:23:26] in Lawrence High School. Can you tell us a little bit more about what the job entails? Lisa brought that up. And so I think it'll be good for the audience to hear a bit more about what the job entails. I think sometimes folks hear terms like restorative justice, and they're like, "Oh, all right. You know, I think I understand that." But tell us in that role of Director of Restorative Justice [inaudible 00:23:49] at Lawrence High School, what does your role entail? You gave us some insight in terms of some of the things that you're doing to support the young people, but perhaps you could share a little bit more.
Jenny Suriel 23:59
Yeah, absolutely. So essentially our school model is a very restorative justice focused model where we, you know, focus on preparing our students to deal with the things that they're gonna face in the real world, preparing our students to deal with conflicts within their communities. And as opposed to a traditional, sorry, school model where perhaps we focus more on an infraction and the consequence that needs to be assigned because of that infraction, in a restorative model, we focus more on like, okay, this is the breach in our community. This is the issue. How do we as a group, as a community come together to restore our environment, to restore whatever issue has, you know, is going on in our school, in our community? Versus, you know, somebody coming in and just assigning a consequence based on what you've done, right? A more traditional school model, perhaps if there is, you know, something like a fight, the automatic response is what? A suspension typically, right? And it's something that we see in a lot of these learning communities that are primarily formed of BIPOC students, of you know-- so a lot of the work that we do is really focused around not the issue at hand and what the response, sorry, and what the punishment for that is, but the issue at hand and how we solve this as a community, how we restore this, how we bring our students to the understanding that me doing this is not only a disservice to me, but it's also a disservice to my peers. It's a disservice to our learning. And it's really been amazing to see the way that our kids engage in this. Because you're right. Sometimes when a lot of people here talk about restorative justice, about restorative circles, it's just kind of this like, oh, but like, is that really effective? Is that too permissive? Does that actually work? But it's been incredible to see the way that our students take ownership about this, over this, sorry. I've had students come up to me and be like, "Miss, like, you know, I walked into the bathroom and somebody trashed it. There was toilet paper all over the floors, like, things were broken. We need to do something. We need to have a circle because we need to talk about how this affects us all and how this action has an impact and has a negative response." And that to me is just so much more effective than seeing that situation and assigning a detention, assigning a suspension 'cause where's the learning there? So it's really focused around, you know, learning from our experiences over being in an environment where there is high accountability, but there's also high support. You can't have one without the other. So it's really about a balance, a balance of the two.
Roberto German 26:37
That's awesome. That's awesome. I'm glad you shared that. It sounds like what y'all got going on is community agreements, community norms you have ownership, there's student voice. There's restoration instead of punishment. And I've been on both sides of this, you know. I'd be lying if I said otherwise. I've been on both sides of this. I perpetuated that model of a, you know, kind of punishment model top down. And then I've been on the other side and other schools that I've been at, especially at, you know, the latter half of my career where, thankfully, I was in environments where, you know, the team was collectively thinking about approaching it differently. Because even with everything that you said, like, I've been there. Even when I was working in Lawrence and doing it-- serving as administrator out there, even with my intentions, like, if you come into an environment that operates in a particular way, you could get sucked into that vacuum. And all of a sudden you turn around, you're like, "Oh", wait a second. Like, I'm doing the same thing I was criticizing everybody else about. I'm the problem too." And so, you know, I definitely been there. But I'm glad to hear about the work that you're doing, the work that your team's doing, the results that y'all are seeing. And I hope this encourages folks to consider and to reexamine that if you're only going with the approach where we're just suspending expelling kids and things of the sort that you or your administrators, your school may be challenged to consider doing differently. And you could feel free to reach out. I'm offering you. But you could feel free to reach out to Jenny in terms of getting some insight as to what they are doing with that restorative justice model. And at the same time, you could place an order for [inaudible 00:28:29], a Dominican cake, some cookies, some cupcakes, and everything else that tastes good that Jenny bakes.
Jenny Suriel 28:36
Everything in between.
Roberto German 28:38
Everything in between. Jenny, what is a message of encouragement that you wanna offer those who are watching? Whether they're educators classroom teachers, or they may be administrators might have, some young folks, might have some students on here. What's the message of encouragement that you wanna offer folks whether it's related to their roles as educators or those who have a small business or are thinking about starting a small business. What's the message that you wanna offer them?
Jenny Suriel 29:13
Don't allow fear to hold you back. Don't allow the fear of failure to keep you and to prevent you from even trying. And this is something that I've applied in my life in both aspects, right? In my career as a dean at Lawrence High School. And in my job as a baker and my career as a baker. Fear can be detrimental. And, you know, I already shared a bit about how that was something that held me back for so long. And then feeling just kind of like the weight off my shoulders when I was able to check myself and be like, "What are you so afraid of? You're afraid of a bad cake. Great. You make another one. You're afraid of change in your school and in your field, in your career. We try again. It's about trial and error. It's about resilience. It's about not giving up. So if you have a dream, if you have the desire to do more with your life, to make a change in your life, the time is now. And, you know, this is something that I'm sharing with you all but that I constantly need to remind myself of. It's something that I constantly face, because as humans, you know, I think fear is a natural emotion. We don't like failure. We don't like feeling like, you know, we failed at an endeavor we're lesser than. But put that aside, trust in yourself and put in the work. Put in the work that is required, press on, and we're all capable of greatness. We just gotta put on the boots and get to work.
Roberto German 30:42
And that could, you know, that could be a theme. And for those of you who haven't started the school year, you are looking for a theme, "Capable of Greatness." Capable of greatness could be your theme. And don't we wanna come in to the school setting to, the classroom and start the school year with that type of tone? Letting our young people know that they are capable of greatness? Yes, you gotta put in the work, but you gotta believe that you are actually capable of greatness, capable of succeeding, capable of accomplishing things, capable of starting your own bakery business from scratch, capable of overcoming obstacles in your school environment, capable of doing things that perhaps you didn't fathom doing at 14, 15, 16, 17, 18. Right?
Jenny Suriel 31:39
And Rob, sorry to jump in, but as educators, I believe that this is something that we are responsible for really modeling for our students, really being that example that sometimes they need of overcoming, of pressing on, of you know, working through our challenges. And, you know, I'm very open about my baking with my students. Most of them know that I do it. You know, on the last day of school, I pulled up with 200 cupcakes for my kids because it was something that they spent all year, you know, as soon as they found out that I baked, they were like, "Miss, but when are we gonna try it? Miss when this and that?" And really being able to share those experiences with our kids. They care. They wanna know, they're interested. I remember at some point of the pandemic, we hosted this activity at my school where we were doing some enrichment via Zoom. And I hosted this Bake with Me session where my kids got to see me outside of the, you know, dean's office, outside of the work that we do in school. And, you know, they were in my home via Zoom, watching me bake and making a cake with me. And then at the end of that on Zoom, we did a little raffle where one of the students, you know, won the cake that we made together. And I remember going back to school, you know, when we went back in person, and that was something that my kids still brought up up until the end of the year. And that they still asked me about. And, you know, opportunities that I had to share with them that, you know, as human beings, we have the ability of doing multiple things, of being good at multiple things, that mastering multiple things. And really being able to use that as like motivation for them and points of conversation for them, and hearing them share back the desires that they have and the dreams that they have. And hearing them tell me, "Wow, miss, you know, I've always wanted to do all these things, but I didn't think I could. And like, seeing that you were just able to do it, that means that like, I can do it too." So really being able to model for our students the things that we are teaching them, the things that we want to see them apply to their lives.
Roberto German 33:38
That's awesome. That's awesome. So where can we follow you for those who are on and this is the first time that they're hearing about Amor y Azucar where can they follow you?
Jenny Suriel 33:51
Absolutely. IG you can find me at __Amor y Azucar. We can add it in the comments as well. If you have, you know, questions about cake, questions about school, you can find me through there. You can reach me there. I'm also going to add my email in the comments in case anyone does have questions about [inaudible 00:34:13] and the work that we are doing with newcomer students. I would be more than glad to talk about any of the above.
Roberto German 34:35
As always, your engagement in our classroom is greatly appreciated. Be sure to subscribe, rate the show and write a review. Finally, for resources to help you understand the intersection of race bias, education, and society, go to multiculturalclassroom.com. Peace and love from your host, Roberto German.