October 29, 2014
In this Pioneer Profile, Celia Garcia Alvarado, Executive Director, Western Region for Education Pioneers, shares with EP where she learned how to change a tire, the Latina trailblazer she most admires, and why she thinks of teachers every day.
- Where did you grow up? I grew up in South Los Angeles (formerly known as South Central). I was born to Mexican immigrant parents who left their small town in Jalisco, Mexico in search for better life opportunities in California.
- What was your childhood like? I grew up in a traditional Mexican household and am the oldest of five. My parents were strict and had very high expectations in regards to doing our best in school. Growing up, I had two sisters (my brother was born when I was in high school) and it was no secret that my dad wanted a son even though he denies it. Let’s just say that my sisters and I stood out because we knew how to change a tire, mow the lawn, play baseball, and shoot a BB gun. I can appreciate it now, but it was not very amusing back then.
- What is your favorite school memory? When my sister and I were in early elementary school, my mom would wait outside the fence every morning until our teachers picked up our classes from the playground. I secretly loved waving goodbye to her as we made our way to our classroom.
- Which leader (alive or not, in any field) do you most admire? Sonia Sotomayor. She’s a Latina trailblazer who I deeply respect for taking courageous stands on highly controversial issues in our country. She is also a leader whose personal story resonates with my own; she has given me a more nuanced understanding of the type of leadership we need in our country in order to advance social justice.
- When was the first time you thought about working in education? When I was 12 years old. I earned a scholarship to attend a renowned all-girls school and had the opportunity to receive an education that changed my life trajectory. But I couldn’t understand why I had to get up so early every morning to have my mom take me to school; we had to commute about two hours every day. I’m very grateful for the education I received and the doors that have been opened as a result of it, but at that moment in time I couldn’t understand why we didn’t have good schools in our own neighborhood and I wanted to change that.
- What has been your most memorable moment working in education? My first year working as a teacher in Watts was memorable. It was humbling and a privilege to teach students and work with their families. I also had the opportunity to work under the leadership of my own 5th and 6th grade teacher who was the assistant principal at the school. I learned so much from her and from the community that particular year, and it is those lessons that have significantly shaped my own views on education.
- What do love about your job? Having the opportunity to meet and support so many amazing people working in organizations that are doing right by kids and families. It gives me a lot of hope for the future. The connections that I make help to sustain me in my work day in and day out.
- If you had a magic wand, what’s one thing you would fix or change? I would like the power to heal both physical and emotional pain. Over the years, and especially after having my two daughters, I am particularly sensitive to suffering. I catch myself time and time again wanting a magic wand to just make it go away.
- What are you still learning to do? Slow down and not be so hard on myself. My husband jokes that I don’t know how to relax, and I think that he may be right! It’s hard because I don’t know differently, but I have a strong support group that helps me stay grounded.
- What or who inspires you? Excellent educators, and in particular, my husband. He has been teaching for 14 years in the community of Watts. Having been a teacher myself, I appreciate the beauty of this profession and know how hard it is to truly home in on the art and science of teaching. He is SO good at what he does and he loves it. He’s the teacher at his school who all the kids come back to visit. In my work, I always think to myself: “What can I do to enable him to do what he does best?”
Bernice • Sat, 2014-11-08 09:15
I'm reading the story. However. I don't understand what your program is. I have 3 individuals that are Seniors in high school that I mentor I was wondering if this program would be right for them?
kendra.racouillat • Mon, 2014-11-10 15:43
Hi Bernice - Thanks for your post! Our programs are designed for early career professionals and graduate students, but we’d love to welcome your students in a few years! For more information, please visit http://www.educationpioneers.org/what-we-do/programs.