Three years ago, Will Herrera was cleaning the Staples High School guidance suite. The hard-working custodian was on his usual 3 to 11 p.m. shift.
A poster caught his eye. It advertised Norwalk Community College‘s Summer Bridge program.
Will had tried college once before. But he was young; the pressure of studying, while juggling work to pay tuition, was too much.
No one in his family had gone to college. His parents had not even finished 5th grade, in their native Colombia. But a relative’s wedding gift of 2 plane tickets to New York gave them a foothold here.
They arrived with green cards in 1985. They worked hard — in New York, Detroit, Florida and Connecticut — while constantly emphasizing to Will the importance of education.
Will attended a magnet school in Bridgeport. He dreamed of becoming a teacher, like those who were influencing him. But he too had to work — he began cleaning YMCAs when he was 15 — and in 2013 was hired as a custodian at Bedford Middle School. He moved to Staples 3 years later.
That guidance poster for NCC marked a turning point in his life. He decided to give college another shot.
Caring admissions officers helped him through the admission and scholarship process.
Will took courses in English, math, environment, pyschology, creative writing, philosophy, computer science and public speaking. He got involved in extracurricular activities, like planting trees at Veterans Park.
All the while, he worked the 2nd custodial shift at Staples.
This past May, Will graduated from NCC — with a 3.51 GPA, and cum laude honors.
His goal of becoming a teacher grew stronger than ever.
Will applied to Sacred Heart and Southern Connecticut State University. He was accepted to both.
Though SHU is much closer — just 2 miles from the home he bought in 2015 — he chose Southern. Its education program and resources are better suited to his needs, he says.
This semester, Will takes 4 courses, in the morning and early afternoon: Teachers, Society and Communities; Introduction to Special Education; Math for Elementary Education, and Health.
Meanwhile, he continues to work the 3 to 11 p.m. custodial shift at Staples.
Oh, yeah: He’s also a board member for the custodians’ union.
Part of his coursework involves classroom observation. He’s doing that at Staples — the same school where, a few hours later, he cleans classrooms.
Observing science and world language classes, he’s intrigued by how teachers handle their work: creating lesson plans, leading discussions, handling a wide variety of learning styles, and doing the thousands of other things educators do every day.
“Education is stressful,” he says. But he notes that everyone in a school — teachers, counselors, custodians — deals with stresses. There are issues of time management, collaboration, priorities — you name it.
Staples world language teacher Julia Svec has loved having Wilson observe her Spanish and Italian classes.
“I knew him from working here,” she says. “I saw how bright and enthusiastic he is, with a great personality.
She is impressed with the way he handles his demanding job, his studies and his observations. “It takes courage and perseverance,” she notes. “He is so inspiring.”
Will’s dream is to be a secondary school Spanish teacher. An administrative or leadership position might follow, at some point.
He’ll earn his bachelor’s degree from Southern in 2021, and will have completed his student teaching.
He’ll apply then for jobs.
If there’s a position open in Westport, I know many people at Staples — in the classroom, and on the custodial staff — will be honored to recommend him.