SPRINGFIELD — Holyoke Chicopee Springfield (HCS) Head Start named Mayra Felix, a teacher director with the organization, the recipient of its Janis Santos Scholarship. This $2,000 scholarship will allow Felix the chance to realize her dream of completing her bachelor’s degree.
The scholarship was created by Janis Santos, former CEO of HCS Head Start and an avid supporter of early education for children and families. Her calling began when she became very involved in her own children’s kindergarten experience. She wanted to be a teacher herself and fell in love with preschool. Going back to school at age 32, she earned her early childhood education degree from UMass Amherst and went on to spend the remainder of her career making sure no one thought early education was just daycare.
The objective of the scholarship she created is to help address the early-childhood teacher shortage. As a fierce advocate for the profession, Santos established it to support current HCS staff, parents, and Head Start alumni who are pursuing a degree in early education and care but may be encountering financial hardship.
“I started taking courses in 1996 and had to stop in 2005. Two years ago, I decided to go back to school, and that is when I realized how expensive it is, but I knew this time I wanted to finish,” Felix said. “That is why I applied for the Janis Santos Scholarship, even though I knew many people had applied. It was an opportunity I knew I could not pass up.”
Felix, now a teacher at HCS Head Start, actually began as a Head Start student herself. She realized at an early age the difference a good teacher could make in the life of a child. Facing adversity after losing her father at a young age, she faced challenges in school and along the way did not always receive needed support. She vowed one day to help others in a meaningful way, choosing to do so in the medical profession. She obtained her associate degree in medical assistance before deciding to leave Puerto Rico to come to Western Mass.
With a then-preschool-aged son (her children are now 36, 29, and 26 years old) and a lack of English skills, she looked no further than Head Start to help educate her son. She enrolled him and ended up also enrolling herself, taking the little chair beside him in class and mastering the basics of English. Language was not where her learning stopped, though, as she quickly realized teaching was her true passion.
She began volunteering at HCS Head Start in 1992 before earning her first paid position later that year. With evolving roles over the years, she is currently a teacher director and looks forward to growing within the organization as she advances her education. She is currently enrolled at Springfield College, working toward her bachelor’s degree.
“I want to be a different kind of teacher,” Felix said. “I want to be the best teacher I can be. And for me, being at Head Start allows me to be surrounded by many different teachers, giving me the chance to learn from all of them because they all show me something different. I am just so passionate about these kids. Thank you to Janis Santos for this acknowledgement. Like any dedicated student, I will make you proud and pay it forward.”
Through the generous donations of many sponsors, the $2,000 Janis Santos Scholarship will be awarded on an annual basis. All current HCS Head Start employees, parents, and all Head Start alumni (parents and children) pursuing a career in early education and care are eligible to apply. The next application date will be announced soon online at hcsheadstart.org.