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The role of teachers? ‘To empower students to recognize that the world needs their talents.’

On the Rhode Island Report podcast, award-winning Central Falls science teacher David Upegui talks about why left the Ivy League to teach at the high school he attended

David Upegui, an award-winning science teacher at Central Falls High School.Megan Hall

PROVIDENCE — In 2010, David Upegui was working in a research job at Brown University when he heard that all of the teachers at Central Falls High School — his high school — had been fired.

He dug out a Gandhi quote that he kept in his desk: “One has to speak out and stand up for one’s convictions. Inaction at a time of conflagration is inexcusable.”

On the Rhode Island Report podcast, Upegui talked about how he decided to quit his Ivy League job right then and there and to launch a career as a teacher.

“I knew that educators have tremendous power,” he said. “I knew what they had done for me — the mentors and the people that told me that I was smart, that I was capable, the people that encouraged me to do more than what society as a whole imagined a kid from Central Falls, an immigrant from Central Falls, could do. Those people were pivotal in my own development, and I wanted to do the same for others.”

Today, Upegui is a science teacher at Central Falls High School who has won numerous awards, including the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching, and he is a member of the 2022 class of PBS Digital Innovator All-Stars who has has written about how “How to Create a More Engaging Classroom Community.


On the podcast, Upegui said the role of teachers is “to empower students to recognize that the world needs their talents,” and he had a message for other teachers in urban school districts: “I would want teachers to remember that what we do is not frivolous and it’s not superficial,” he said. “Through science or whatever subject you’re teaching, you are empowering the students to take their rightful place in society.”


To get the latest episode each week, follow Rhode Island Report podcast on Apple Podcasts and other podcasting platforms, or listen in the player above.

Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at Follow him @FitzProv.