Dr. Geneva Reynaga Abiko (she/they) is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist with a passion for supporting public education. They specialize in relational trauma with a focus on serving QTPOC (Queer and Trans People of Color). Additionally, Dr. Geneva is a passionate education supporter, and her background in psychology informs why she chooses to give to education.
When we spoke with Dr. Geneva, they shared with us about how the classroom was a respite for them as a child. School can be a predictable, safe place where students can build their confidence and sense of self. But that means teachers need to have the right supplies. We know if students’ needs are met, they learn more. But what happens if they aren’t? That’s why Dr. Geneva believes it is so important to support education. The classroom can be a respite, but it can also recreate systemic inequality.
Why Supporting Public Education is Important
We spoke with Dr. Geneva about her experience growing up and why supporting public education is important to her.
AAC: Could you tell me a little bit about yourself?
GRA: I am originally from Southern California, from a place called Fontana in San Bernardino County. If you think of Los Angeles we are 50 miles east in the foothills.
When I was young, Fontana was a very Mexican community. I’m from a Mexican immigrant family, and we were really lucky to be able to live in the US. My grandpa had gotten a job that was based in Fontana after World War II. To other people in the US, it is a very poor place, and not a desirable location. To my family, it was magical for us to be able to live there. We were so grateful to be able to be in the US and know English and have access to healthcare.
I didn’t know I grew up poor until I was in grad school and was around other people who told me I was poor. I always felt very rich because compared to my family still in Mexico, we were very lucky to be in Fontana. It’s a fascinating sort of experience.
AAC: How did education impact your life growing up?
GRA: I had amazing teachers and I always loved school. For me, school was a refuge. I was always really good at school, so I felt successful. I could really shine at school. That was true from kindergarten all the way up to the last day of my doctorate.
I found it very rewarding and fun. Whether it was reading, math, science, I just loved every single aspect of school. I loved everything about school and the relationship I was able to have with teachers was part of that.
AAC: When you look back on your education experience do you have any memories that stick out to you?
GRA: In high school I remember loving the teachers who would let me read books that resonated with me. I did not want to read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, for example. I remember asking my teacher, “Are there any other choices?” This particular teacher was like “Yeah! The goal is for you to learn and here are some other books you could do this learning with.” I chose from that list and had a great time reading. I was still reading like the rest of the class, but it meant a lot to me that that particular teacher allowed me to not have to sit through a book that did not resonate with me.
AAC: There are so many causes that need support. Why do you support public education as a donor?
“I believe education really saved me. It was an opportunity for me to have a pleasant experience. That wasn’t always the case when I was younger in my own life. It was an escape and a respite for me in so many different ways.” – Dr. Geneva Reynaga Abiko
My life is so different because of the education I was able to receive. Compared to where I’m from, I have a different class experience now and my child is able to go to great schools. In my mind, that is all because of education. So, personally, it is one of the most important things after food and shelter.
I’m not happy with the funding that public schools get. I really don’t think it’s okay. I’m also interested in systemic changes and trying to create change at that level. Politics is not my forte, so I try to find ways to support things. Obviously I can vote, but I can make change in other ways. I really believe in giving to charity, so I do that every month by giving a percentage of my income. I have a few charities that I enjoy supporting and AdoptAClassroom.org is one of them.
AAC: Why did you choose AdoptAClassroom.org of all the other education nonprofits out there?
GRA: I really want the money to go to where it’s needed most. When I was first starting my career I worked in some larger nonprofit organizations. I felt like the donations just went to overhead costs. I’m sure it costs money to do all of this, but donations weren’t going where the donors wanted. AdoptAClassroom.org directs my donation straight to the teacher.
I read all the time about teachers spending their own money. I already think they don’t make enough money. On top of a low salary, then I find out they are spending their own money on supplies to make the kids’ lives better. I am really touched by that and want to help out.
AAC: It’s hard to make a choice when tens of thousands of teachers need funding. How do you choose?
GRA: I didn’t know any of the teachers personally. When I decided to give to AdoptAClassroom.org, I sat down and I looked for people who seemed to need it the most. Usually I pick a state that doesn’t fund education very well or has really high poverty rates. I try to give to teachers who have never received a donation before.
Then I look at what the teacher plans to spend my donation on. I care about what they’re going to use it for. That doesn’t mean I’m judging them or think I know better. I want to be sure my donation goes where it is needed most, so if they don’t have these supplies or opportunities, it’s going to have a big impact.
AAC: Does your work as a Licensed Clinical Psychologist impact why you support public education?
“As a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, I do trauma work all day long with clients. I’m very moved by what can prevent a potentially traumatic experience or what can help a person feel cared about. We know when a student’s emotional needs are met they are able to better learn and retain information. I’m very moved and get teary when I’m reading the classroom fundraising pages. You can tell when the teacher so clearly cares and the students are really benefiting from this classroom in a way that is life changing. I’m always looking for those sorts of stories. Not because they need to pull at my heartstrings, but because this is having a real impact on this persons’ life.” – Dr. Geneva Reynaga Abiko
AAC: We’ve seen huge improvements in schools when they prioritize students’ social and emotional needs. In one school AdoptAClassroom.org worked with, they implemented a timeout meditation room. It’s a completely different school now. Those students are able to regulate, the teachers are a lot happier, and teacher retention is better. Little things like that transform schools.
GRA: And it probably wasn’t that expensive! It doesn’t require that many materials or space and it can make such a gigantic difference.
AAC: We conducted our teacher spending survey this year and we found that teachers are spending an average of $860 a year out of pocket on school supplies. That’s an increase of more than $100 since 2021. It’s a 14% increase in just the last two years. How do you feel about that as a donor? Does that surprise you?
GRA: No, but I don’t think it’s okay. It doesn’t surprise me at all, because we know that things are getting more expensive and we are less supportive of public funding. That impacts teachers. I think teachers should be spending zero dollars and should actually have budgets for their classroom. I get it, maybe we need to buy the generic markers instead of the fancy markers. But we should at least have resources for whatever the classroom needs.
AAC: Why do you think it’s important to support public education?
GRA: It’s our future, right? It’s the future of everything. It impacts all of us. Even if I don’t have children or I’m not in school anymore, this is the future of the country and the world. We’re supposed to be the land of opportunity. People should be able to access things like education. It seems like it’s harder and harder to do that if you don’t come from a rich background. I don’t think that’s okay. I think it’s specifically not what the US supposedly stands for. We’re only as strong as the person with the least resources. I feel like the gap between rich and poor is widening and we see that in so many different ways. It’s snowballing in the public school system and we need to help.
How to Support Public Education
Thank you Dr. Geneva and all AdoptAClassroom.org supporters for standing by teachers and for sharing your inspiration with us! Together, we can ensure every student has what they deserve to succeed in school. And, teachers won’t have to pay for it themselves.
If you want to help teachers, you can make a direct donation to AdoptAClassroom.org today.