NOVA Grad Returns to Earn Google IT Support Cert. to Help Her Special Ed. Students Succeed

May 9, 2023

Sandra Janet Medrano Alvarez, who prefers to go by Janet, graduated from Osbourn High School in Manassas City. She never imagined she could attend college since there was no way to afford it. But Janet is very proud to say she’s a first-generation college graduate! She graduated from NOVA in 2020 with an associate in art history. Still, she wasn’t sure about her career path.


Janet works as a special education instructional assistant at Wakefield High School in Arlington and loves working with students. Even so, she found herself back at NOVA. Janet is now getting her Google IT Support Professional Certificate. She began the program at the end of March and should finish this summer.

She was already passionate about technology and coaches the Esports team for Wakefield High School. But while working on her Google certification, she realized her love for technology. Now she’s looking for ways to use IT to provide tools that will assist her high school students. 

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background:
My parents are from El Salvador. They grew up in poverty during the Salvadorean Civil War. They immigrated to Virginia to work and help support their families back home. During that time, I was born in Fairfax. So, I'm a first-generation Virginian. We moved around, living in Arlington, D.C. and Maryland. But I spent most of my life in Manassas (since the end of 2nd grade), and I graduated high school in 2014.

I began working for Arlington Public Schools as a 1:1, assisting one student who needs help. Now, I'm more of an instructional assistant because my student is becoming very independent. I'm so proud of her, and I no longer need to be as attentive.

I signed up for the 1:1 position last year. So basically, what I do is help a student who needs accommodation. I was basically right next to her in whatever class she was in, so I helped her out. If she didn't understand something, I would explain it to her. It wasn't just academically, but emotionally as well. To me, emotional regulation and being included in the school's general population are super important. Of course, the academic side is very important. I mean, that's why I got the job, because I had an associates degree. They needed somebody for the student, and I seemed like the perfect match. 

What I work on is basically trying to help these students with special needs to be more integrated, more included. I realized from my experience working with kids with disabilities that not everybody sees people with disabilities sometimes. I want to make sure that they're visible and included and feel like they're part of society and can participate in whatever they want, but with accommodations if needed.

What brought you to NOVA?
A lot was going on in my junior or senior year of high school, and I was unsure what I wanted to do. But NOVA came to my high school since there's a campus in Manassas. They let us know that we could apply during our senior year. Also, they explained that if you can't afford it, you could apply for financial aid.  

I thought this was good because I really wanted to go to college, you know, the dorm life and all that stuff, but I couldn't afford it, and I didn't want to burden my family with financial troubles. I decided NOVA was a good choice, especially since the Manassas Campus is just on the other side of the city.

I attended NOVA and qualified for financial aid the entire time. I was really very lucky to learn that I could go to college. NOVA has been really great to me! 

What did you study at NOVA?
I just knew I loved art history and history, the humanities, liberal arts and such. But there's humanity in IT as well. That's why I returned and go toward IT because the Internet has given me a lot of online friends. The friends I made online have been very supportive, and we share a love of technology and other interests like video games or digital art.

So, there are artists and programmers who want to make games, or developers who want to tell a story, and that's all very human. I want to show my students at Wakefield High School that technology is a good way to connect with others.

Tell Us About Your Experience at NOVA, i.e., professors you’ve liked and friends you’ve met. 
The professors were passionate about what they taught, and they taught me a lot, not just academically. So, when something went wrong, I went to them and said I'm struggling, and the instructors helped me. But it took a while for me to gain the confidence to ask for help.

What would you tell a student coming to NOVA? 
It's going to be different from high school, but not too unfamiliar. It is still college, so you should work hard and stay on top of your work. You can also take your time. Life gets in the way... a lot.

Know that the professors and instructors are understanding. But you have to open up and talk to them, especially if you need help with a class. If you go up to them and introduce yourself and communicate that you need help, they will understand. NOVA really does care, and they want us to graduate. So, advocate for yourself.  

What career pursuits are you exploring?
For next year, my goal is to make the Esports Program very inclusive for a lot more people. I want to see these gamers reach out to their community; to see them help special education students or others who feel alone to make a connection. Also, I want Esports to get more recognition in Arlington Public Schools.

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