While some teachers find it challenging to empathize with their students, others’ personal experiences make the task much easier. Two educators from Union Elementary School District say their educational history fuels their professional poise.
Ana Cazares and Leticia Barrett are teachers at Union Elementary School. Although the sisters teach different grade levels and subjects, their experience growing up as English-language learners allows them to connect with students and parents in a unique way.
Ana and Leticia lived in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. According to Leticia, education has always been at the forefront of her family’s priorities.
“We would wake up at 4 a.m. every morning to commute across the United States border to attend school in El Paso, Texas. After a year of commuting back and forth, my family was able to move to El Paso,” Leticia says. “My early years in school were not easy, since I only spoke Spanish and didn’t learn how to read until third grade. My parents only attended school until fourth grade and had to work at an early age, so they always pushed us to do our best in school.”
Leticia, who is currently a second grade English-language development teacher, says even with the language barrier her parents made education a priority. Also, she admits Ana, being the older sister, has always served as her personal role model. Together, the two aim to build strong relationships with students and parents to prove that with proper support, no educational endeavor is impossible.
To accomplish this goal, Ana, a reading interventionist, clings to her favorite Florence Nightingale quote: “I attribute my success to this: I never gave up or took any excuse.”
“I work mostly with children who are struggling to read, and for many of them, English is their second language. I refuse to accept anything as excuse when it comes to reading and education,” Ana says. “Since I am the older sister, I always felt that I had to be a good role model for Leticia. When I taught kindergarten or first grade, I knew my students would eventually be in her class. I wanted them to be prepared so she could further help them along on their journey.”
The sisterly dynamic is just one part of what makes these educators unique.
“I find it way easier to communicate with many of my students’ parents since I have an understanding of the family structure and the Hispanic culture. Some of these students come into my classroom with no educational exposure and limited English. By the end of the school year I watch them read, write, and speak in complete sentences. I’m proud of their newfound confidence,” Ana explains.
As a colleague, Leticia admires her sister’s willingness to spend personal time thinking up new ways to help students.
“In her free time, Ana is always coming up with innovative ways to teach her students and she is willing to share ideas with others. Working with my sister helps reinforce my personal value of higher expectations in my students,” Leticia says.
The sisters’ dedication to their students and the community is more than affirmed by Union Elementary School Principal Michael Welsh.
“Dedicated, creative, resourceful, data-driven, committed, reflective, and student-centered are words that come to mind as I work with Ana Cazares and Leticia Barrett. Both Ana and Leticia are grounded in instructional best practice and are continuously refining their practice to provide the best possible learning experiences for their students,” Welsh says.
Gone are the days when the border was an obstacle for their education. Physical barriers are no match for the sisters’ and their determination to take learning to another level.
“Both sisters don’t limit their influence to the students within their classroom walls, but are leaders on our campus supporting their colleagues to ensure all students are provided with a quality education,” Welsh adds. “It is a privilege to work alongside two natural leaders that are making a positive impact on Arizona youth.”