Jennifer Pena brings acting and teaching, two of her passions, to her role as Miss Rosa on PBS KIDS.
Pena, an Orlando native, uses the skills she learned while earning her teaching certificate at UCF to teach children to explore and learn through art, song, dance and storytelling in both English and Spanish.
Pena will return to Orlando this weekend for a Miss Rosa reading event at the Orlando Public Library hosted by WUCF TV.
We caught up with Pena before the summer reading celebration to ask her about her time at UCF and her alter ego, Miss Rosa.
Tell us about your time at UCF.
I was enrolled from 2003-2004 to complete master’s level courses for my teaching certificate. It was great to be able to learn about educational principles, measurements and assessments, and child development while actually being in the classroom. It was an amazing opportunity to apply what I was learning while I was teaching, and it made me a better teacher.
Do you have any highlights from your time as a classroom teacher?
There were so many great memories, it’s hard to pick just one. But I do remember that when I taught at the high school, American Government was one of the subjects I taught. I had to cover the executive branch of government, or the office of the president, and the election process in the U.S. One assignment I did for that chapter was have my class split into groups, nominate someone to be the candidate for their party, and then run an election campaign against the other nominees.
At some point I mentioned, “Hey, maybe I will run for office one day,” jokingly, of course. Years later, a former student found me on Facebook and wrote how great it was to watch me on TV with her child, and by the way, when was I running for president? It made me laugh that she remembered that, but also reminded me how something so simple can have a lasting impact.
Why did you decide to transition to acting?
I was actually a child actor growing up in Orlando. I left the world of acting to go to college, because I didn’t think you could earn a living being an actor. After being in the classroom for four years, I decided to give acting another shot. A year later, PBS held a nationwide search for a new host and found me in Orlando.
What goes into your role as Miss Rosa?
I put all of my passion, life experience and excitement for learning into Miss Rosa. I use the knowledge I gained at UCF about how kids learn, my classroom experience, and the feedback I get from viewers.
What’s the best part of being Miss Rosa?
I love that I pretty much get to be myself and hopefully make an impact on PBS KIDS viewers, both kids and parents, across the U.S. That’s a pretty amazing thing to be able to do for a job.
What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?
That I am a “Double Rican.” I am Costa Rican and Puerto Rican.
Do you have any advice for young people who want to use their talents to help others?
Be open to the opportunities that may come your way. Sometimes we get so focused on our destination that we pass up a great alternate route or get our feet kicked out from under us when there is a detour. You may still end up in the same destination, just having gone an unexpected route. I am where I am today because of lots of detours and alternate routes.