Former migrant student Maricruz Garcia Leal holds her 2009-2010 Elementary Teacher of the Year Award from Woodrow Wilson Elementary School in McAllen, Texas.
Migrant Student Program 25th Anniversary: Maricruz Garcia Leal
3/20/2012Maricruz Garcia Leal has vivid memories of growing up in a family of migrant workers in Uvalde, Texas. “I was the sixth of seven children in my family. My older siblings and my father worked in the fields of Uvalde harvesting onions, cantaloupes, whatever was in season,” says Maricruz. “And we would also migrate up north to Illinois.”
As a student of the Migrant Student Graduation Enhancement Program, Maricruz was able to graduate from Uvalde High School in 1998 after only three years. She was named an Exemplary Migrant Student in 1997.
“Migrating makes going to school very challenging. I attended three different high schools my senior year. It’s tough,” says Maricruz. “You don’t have the stability that other students, who don’t migrate, have. It’s an untraditional high school experience.”
After high school, Maricruz went on to graduate from St. Edwards University in 2002 with degrees in both bilingual education and Spanish before earning a master’s degree in 2008 from The University of Texas-Pan American in Educational Administration, which includes a principalship. She now teaches elementary school at Woodrow Wilson Elementary School in McAllen, Texas, where she was honored with the 2009-2010 Elementary Teacher of the Year Award.
Maricruz answers some of our questions during this 25th anniversary year for the Migrant Student Program.
What is one of your most vivid memories of migrating?
I mostly remember being on the road. I remember we had a truck, and, every year, my parents would take all of us children and pack the truck with our things and drive from Texas to Illinois. That was our way of life. It was the norm. But as we grew up, we realized it wasn’t the norm for everyone else. When we would go up north, we saw very different lifestyles. It made me think that there might be another way of life.
I especially remember how hard my mother and father worked. My mother woke up the earliest. By 4 a.m. she was making breakfast and getting lunch ready for work. She never complained. My parents are a beautiful example of humility, strong work ethic and of people who took pride in their way of life. Migrating really brought me and my siblings closer together. Having people in your family who share what you’re going through made us all so much closer. They were special times.
How did you get involved with the Migrant Student Program?
When I was a freshman in high school, it was a teacher, Mr. Bautista, who took notice of me and told me I needed to go to college. He saw something in me and he wanted to give me that guidance. Before that, I didn’t even think about college. Through the help of my migrant counselor at Uvalde High School, Mr. Gonzalez, I got involved in the Migrant Student Program. I took an online course so I could graduate in only three years with my sister Linda. I then went on to St. Edwards University on a scholarship from the College Assistance Migrant Program. I graduated with degrees in bilingual education and Spanish. I just ran into Mr. Gonzalez again recently, completely by chance. It was so wonderful to see him. He was such a positive force in my life.
How did your experience with the Migrant Student Program help you get to where you are today?
I was the first in my family to go to college. Sometimes, I think, “Why? Why didn’t other members of my family go?” I went because of a teacher who gave me that idea, showed confidence in me and instilled in me a desire to go to college. I feel very lucky that someone took the time to see my potential and gave me that guidance.
At the time, my parents were on survival mode. It was about living from day-to-day. For them, seeing us through high school was enough. When I was in high school, I didn’t think college was an option for me. When I got involved in the Migrant Student Program, I knew I wanted to go to college. When I started school at St. Edwards, I started mentoring at risk students on a part time basis. I loved it. I always believe in giving back and being of service. So, I changed my major from civil engineering to education, and I’ve been in the classroom ever since. I believe my experience with programs like the UT Migrant Student Program helped me become a person who is passionate about giving back to my community.
What are you doing today?
I am an educator at Woodrow Wilson Elementary in McAllen, Texas. I provide support to underprivileged students, and, again, that is a passion for me. While I spend most of my time with students, I also talk to parents about the importance of education. I recently went back to school and got my masters in Educational Administration from The University of Texas–Pan American. I’m also working on earning my masters in counseling. I want to stay in education. It’s my strength and it excites me, but, perhaps because of my experience as a migrant student, I don’t want to work in the traditional classroom or school setting. I’m curious about new models of schools and education. I would like to be a part of new schools with new philosophies on education.