Optimal Learning Environments - Dr. Alicia Valero-Kerrick
Hispanic Heritage Month 2013
Posted September 28th 2013

In honor of Hispanic Heritage month, this monthís blog will focus on the contributions that Hispanics have made to help shape our country. I want to share my fatherís story in the hope that it will inspire others, whose parents have struggled and continue to struggle, to achieve a better live through the power of an education.

My father came to the United States as part of the Bracero Program. The Bracero Program was a government sponsored program that began during World War II to allow for the temporary immigration of Mexican men to replace agricultural workers who were in the armed forces. The program ran between 1942 through 1964 and it gave my father the opportunity to obtain permanent residency for himself and his family. My father worked under the blazing California sun for 45 years as a migrant farmworker, sometimes in horrible working conditions. He told me that if I went to college I would have more opportunities for a better life. My father did not have the formal education that sometimes affords children the path to get to college. However, the informal education that he gave me was powerful. He required that I also work in the fields during elementary and high school to experience life as a farmworker. I learned at a young age that the only way I was going to escape the physical hardship of the agricultural fields was to go to college. The year before my father died he saw me graduate with a Ph.D. in Education.

As my father promised, an education has given me many opportunities. As a lecturer at Sacramento State University, I have the privilege to listen to my students share their stories and challenges. I have students who are blind; who have learning disabilities; students who have escaped wars; students who are English language learners; and, students who are part of the Dream Act.

As a school psychologist, I recently had the opportunity to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Day at a local high school in the school district where I work. As the invited guest speaker, I shared my story and I listened to many students share their dream of going to college too. I know that these young students will have a powerful impact in our society.

Hispanic Heritage Month allows us to celebrate and honor the lives of those who have positively influenced our society. Share how you have been inspired by the histories, cultures and contributions of those from a Hispanic descent.

Reply to the above post
Reply from lay vang posted on December 16th 2013
This is a really inspiring story. Iím sorry that your father died before he saw you graduate. However, Iím sure he would be really proud of your accomplishments. Similarly, my parents came here in the 1980ís as refugees after the Vietnam. My family has always worked in the fields and for as long as I can remember I too worked in the fields with them. My parents werenít able to help me much academically due to their limited English. But what my parents taught me was if you want something, you need to work hard for it. Through hard work such as getting an education, it opens the doors to so much more opportunities.
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Reply from Ellen Street posted on December 15th 2013
I am inspired by the culture, history, and contribution of my best friend and her family is from Hispanic descent. My best friend was born in California, but her father was born in Mexico. He never went to school or received any kind of formal education. Growing up, her family was very poor and they did not have much, but her father worked very hard to provide her with a safe home and food on the table. He made sure that she attended school every day, and that she focused on her classes to get good grades. Her father died when she was only 18, and this loss was devastating to her and her family, but it did not stop her from working to better herself and her life. The work ethic and sacrifice that her father taught her only added to desire and ambition to achieve her goals and her dreams. As soon as she graduated high school, my best friend put herself through beauty school. Her first job was working at the JC Penny Salon. Today, my best friend has two large and very successful salons and businesses of her own. The work ethic her father taught her has never faded, and she has made sacrifices to ensure that her own children will be able to afford going to college. Her children are now in junior high and high school, and when they graduate from college, they will be the first generation in their family to have a college education. She has taught her children the same strong work ethic that her father taught her.
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Reply from Yuga posted on December 14th 2013
Thanks a lot for sharing your father\'s story and as we can tell, he would be really proud of your achievements! I was moved by the point you made about the strength of informal education you received from your father. Life has it\'s own way of teaching a person. I can only imagine the experiences through which your father had to go through and the way your father could have emerged as a man with the wisdom. It was so apt of him to realize the need of education and encourage you to go to a college for a better quality of life. My respect extends to you as well for toiling your way through PhD and making a mark in the field of school psychology. I sincerely appreciate your story. Though I don\'t know a lot of people from hispanic decent myself, my husband knows a couple of people in his company. My husband speaks very highly of those persons and their stories of how they were struggling to meet both ends while doing janitorial services and how the education enabled them to earn respectable corporate jobs. It is moving to know people striving so hard to earn education despite of all the odds. I believe education has a tremendous power to change the course of life and Dr. Valero Kerrick\'s story underscores the same!
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Reply from sujey posted on December 12th 2013
Thank you for sharing your story Dr. Valero-Kerrick. My grandfathers were also in the Braceroís program for many years, and experienced many injustices and were mistreated often; however, they were grateful for the opportunity to provide for their family. Both of my parents emigrated from Mexico before I was born. With a 4th grade education, and a limited English vocabulary they were able to fulfill their ďAmerican dreamĒ. Growing up, my parents struggled maintaining a job and feeding a family of seven. Nevertheless, my parents worked two jobs at a time to make sure we had everything that we needed. We did not live a life of luxury, but we had the essentials and loving parents. My parents encouraged my siblings and I to get our education and pursue college. Today, I am a first-generation college student and am the first in my family to also pursue a Masterís degree. My parents are the reason that education is so important to me, and everything that I do is to make them and our future generations proud.
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Reply from Sebastian Zuniga posted on December 10th 2013
I can relate to Dr. Valero-Kerrick's story. I also have a deceased father who made me work in the fields. My father was born on a cotton farm in Texas to a pair of recent Mexican immigrants. Although I was growing up in California, I would go back to Texas with him every summer through elementary school where my father would have me work in the fields all day in the blazing sun. It was awful. He would constantly remind me of my paternal grandfather, who despite going to school for nine years, never passed a grade. He failed first grade three times and was allowed to go to second grade. He failed second grade three times and was allowed to go to third grade. After failing third grade three times he dropped out of school. My father would point to his father, the town drunk in a dry county, and told me to take school seriously to avoid his fate. My father, who graduated high school and served in the United States Marine Corps, wanted me to be the first person in my family to go to college. I think he had dreams that I would be able to affect lives the way Dr. Valero-Kerrick does. I'm glad I have my mom to help support me in that pursuit.
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Reply from danielle barham posted on December 10th 2013
Thank you Dr. Valero- Kerrick for sharing your story it was truly touching. Firsts of all, I am grateful that there are programs provided such as the one your farther was in which gave him the opportunity to obtain permanent residency for himself and his family. I think the informal education that your father gave you is something very special and many people do not experience this kind of education. I could only imagine how proud your farther was of you. Both of my parents dropped out of high school in ninth grade. Growing up I have watched my parents struggle finically and emotionally. They worked minimum wage jobs and struggled to make ends meet. Having witnessed their struggles and hardship through the years, I decided at a young age I wanted to pursue an education. My parents never encouraged me to go to college matter of fact I donít think we have ever talked about the topic, but I knew in my heart I had a strong desire for an education in my future. Thanks to financial aid and hard work I was able to do get my BA, and now I am pursuing my dream of completing a masterís degree. Itís a great feeling. I really like how in Amanda Huynh post she wrote how you had a more profound insight as to why you were furthering your education instead of just getting, ďa piece of paper.Ē That was a great point made. I admire your passion to share your story with others, your story inspired me to share my story, and reflect on my current purpose and goals in my present and future. I went to a cultural workshop at Sacramento state and they showed the video The Harvest. This video showed how hard farmworkers work and went into detail how much these families struggle in order to support their families. I personally know a Hispanic young man who went to the community college with me. He said his family all lived in Mexico and he came over to the US to get a better education and support his family finically back home. This man worked two jobs and went to school full time. I was sad to hear that his mother needed help back home and he had to drop out of school to go be with his family. I know that this same situation happens a lot, as it was stated in the movie the harvest.
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Reply from Bryson Hamamura posted on December 7th 2013
After reading this post I wanted to share a piece of my own family history, one which shows the kindness of Hispanic immigrates (during the 1940s) and how it has personally influenced and changed the outcome of my familyís future. After WWII broke out every Japanese America was interned and sent to camps, where they would live until the wars end. My great grandparents and grandparents were forced to leave everything to live in prison like conditions because of their ethnicity. Many of these Japanese Americans were farmers and land workers, and because of the sudden upheaval, there was a need for workers; this is one of the reasons the Bracero Program was put into place. After the war, when the Japanese American people returned home they found there nightmare wasnít over. Many found their homes vandalized or destroyed, they lost their jobs, and many were left displaced. However, my familyís fate was much more different. When my family came home they were welcomed to a very different story. While they were interned there was a group of Hispanic immigrants who worked my familyís farmland, they tended to the crops and animals and even paid the property taxes. They sold what they grew and replanted every year my family was away. When my grandparents returned they continued to help them regain our footing, since so many Americans racially targeted the Japanese it was even hard to purchase everyday goods. If it wasn't for this generation of Hispanic immigrants who took care of us the future of my family could have been much more bleak. I am forever grateful for the contributions those from Hispanic descent have played, they are forever interwoven in the fabric of my own family history.
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Reply from danielle barham posted on December 4th 2013
I believe the Montessori Method is the best method, when it comes to learning. This method believes that the environment is the foundation to learning, growing socially, mentally, and physically. The children get to explore using their 5 SENCES to explore and learn. A safe and stress free environment helps children learn, grow, and bloom into their best potential possible. It is the teacherís responsibility to make sure the learning environment and materials are challenging enough for all the children. I think it is important for a Montessori teacher to be a great observer, and have skilled knowledge in order to provide the children with enriched learning materials. I like the idea that the children take charge of their own learning and also work together as a team to learn from each other. In Conventional schools children get gold stars and incentives to be good, and if they are not good, and get bad grades they are punished. In Montessori schools the rules are opposite children are not forced to learn and get good grades. Children get to learn at their own pace and focus on what they are naturally good at. I think this is a great way to help children with their self-esteem and develop their true passions in life, which makes learning fun and stress free. One thing I love about the method is that older students can help younger student learn and advance when ready to do so. I would love to open my own Montessori one day.
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Reply from Kacie posted on November 4th 2013
Thank you for sharing this truly inspirational story about your father and your educational journey. While I may not personally have any direct connections with inspirational people from Hispanic descent, I have watched close friends strive to succeed thanks to the hard work of their migrant parents. While I was attending California State University of Bakersfield, a close friend of mine was the first person in her Hispanic family to attend and graduate college. Her family taught her to have a very strong work ethic and that is what pushed her to succeed in college while balancing two jobs. Watching her succeed in class and walk across that stage to receive her Bachelor's degree as her family was loudly cheering in the crowd was very inspirational. She is currently working on her teaching credentials to work with children who have special needs. It is stories like these and the people within them that impact our society and show us that nothing is impossible.
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Reply from Kathleen Wayland posted on October 25th 2013
Dr. Valero-Kerrick's life path, starting in the freshly plowed fields as a youthful agricultural worker to becoming a school psychologist, fits nicely into the inheritance metaphor as described in Inkson's book, Understanding Careers, the Metaphors of Working Lives. Inspired by her farm laborer father, she was able to look far beyond the long rows of crops and sweltering heat to envision a life with a far greater range of personal options and career choices. It was only fitting her father lived to see her realize her dream in the achievement of a Ph.D. in Education. A number of comments report similar stories of migration, adapting to a new culture, learning a new language, and overcoming institutional and societal prejudices in the quest for a richer life. A common theme among them was strong family support and the belief that hard work, perseverance, and a college education was highly valued. Indeed, one of the primary reasons families migrate to the United States is to ensure their children receive a better education and the tangible results of a higher economic lifestyle; the parents often sacrifice much for their children. While Dr. Valero-Kerrick's story of rising from field to academia reflected her personal journey, and others relate similar life odysseys beginning in the Ukraine and China and culminating in graduation from college, there are probably a number of students in the Child Development Graduate Program with similar life stories who count multiple generations of relatives all born in the United States. An inheritance metaphor presents as both a positive and an adverse environment which is not constrained by geographical, racial, ethnic, language, or cultural classifications. Children from families with drug/alcohol, sexual, and psychological abuse, and the spectrum of similar horrific childhood environments, have just as formidable obstacles to overcome as international migration and new language acquisition. Although some barriers to achieving higher education and "success" are more visible than others, the victory in overcoming them are just as valuable to the individual, to those that inspired their student to pursue their dream, and to the fabric of society.
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Reply from Amanda Huynh posted on October 16th 2013
Thank you for sharing this profound and personal story with us here on the blog Dr. Valero-Kerrick. Your father worked hard throughout his life to not only support the family, but also to set himself as a role model and example for the kids in the family. His request for you to work on the fields through your elementary and high school years cultivated a deeper understanding of the importance of schooling and obtaining a higher education. Doing so also allowed you to gain a more profound insight as to why you will be furthering your education Ė rather than going to school just to obtain a ďpiece of paper,Ē you were clear as to why you chose the direction of obtaining a higher education, and that is to escape the hardships that came with working at the agricultural fields. Although I am not of Hispanic background, my parents were immigrants from China and also had to work through tedious and low-paying jobs in order to support themselves and their families. Although my parents could not financially support me through college, they instilled in me a reflective perception about the importance of education and continuously learning and gaining knowledge. While it is hard work to get to college for many, it is, in my opinion, even more difficult for children raised in immigrant families due to the financial and cultural knowledge limitations in a foreign country. Your father must have been very proud to see you walk across that stage and receive your Ph.D. Please continue sharing your story as a guest speaker and motivate these young children to stay determined and be consistent with their goal of going to college.
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Reply from Carly posted on October 14th 2013
Kudos to Dr. Valero-Kerrick and her inspirational father. He sounds like a great man, and Iím sure he was quite proud of his daughter. I think itís very important for parents to encourage education in their child life. Neither of my parents completed college, but they made sure it was an important goal for me. Neither of them wanted to see me struggle like they had, which I think is what all parents want, a better future for their children. It wasnít until after I got my BA that my mom went back to college to get her degree in Nursing, and Iím super proud of her! One of my good friends has parents who immigrated to the US from Mexico. They did so before having kids, but for the same reason, to create a better life for themselves. They had five children, one who is a senior in high school, four who have completed their bachelorís degrees and two who went on and finished their Masterís degrees. When he talks about his parents, you can tell they are the reason education is so important in the childrenís lives.
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Reply from Irina Kalyuta posted on October 8th 2013
I can't directly relate to someone from a Hispanic descent, but I can relate to the powerful and encouraging story written here by Dr. Valero-Kerrick. I moved to America with my parents and my siblings after finishing 4th grade in Ukraine. Even though, I was very small, I had to help my parents work on the fields in order for our family to have food on our table over the cold winter months. While going to school, my mom would always encourage us to go to school by saying that if we do good in school, there is a brighter future waiting for us. Of course, living in a village and seeing people working on fields, my mom's encouraging words about the brighter future with higher education was not so promising to me. As years went by, our family moved to live in Sacramento. Of course, the first couple years were not easy since we did not know the language and did not know much about the culture. But during those years, my mom again would always encourage us to do good in school. A lot of times she would say: "I know it is not easy for you right not with little knowledge about language and school systems, but I want you to try, and you will do good". In addition to saying those words, my mom applied and was accepted to one of the community colleges to show an example for us, her kids, that higher education is important. While my mom went to college, I saw her try to learn the language and take classes toward her degree. By doing that, my mom became my role model to setting goals for a higher education. As I graduated high school, I went off to college. After receiving a degree in Early Childhood Education, I did not want to stop there, but I wanted to get my higher education and I transferred to Sac State. I got my B.A. in Child Development here and went on to work on my Master Degree. Because I had a little of experience working on the fields, I took my mom's words and always kept them in my mind that if I get my higher education, I will get a better job than working on the fields. I'm thankful to my mom for being a role model for me! I'm her first child from our family getting a Master's Degree. I currently have sisters and brothers who are attending Sac State and Colleges and getting their higher education. I'm proud of my mom and that she set that example for us, her children to get a higher education.
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Reply from sara posted on October 6th 2013
My father migrated from Jalisco, Mexico under the watchful eye of my grandparents with his seven brothers and sisters. As my father grew up he watched as his older siblings married off and left the nest. After all of his older siblings left he soon realized that he was the oldest sibling left in the house and took on the responsibility of taking care of his younger brothers and sisters, his blind mother, and hardly present father. Robert, my father, soon found himself dropping out of school at the age of thirteen. My mother side of the family was a bit different. Her father was born and raised in Mexico and came to the states in order to provide a better future for his children. Unable to find a well paying job because of his lack of education he had his six children help him out in the fields during the summers. Knowing how important education was, my grandparents made sure their children attended school regularly and got their high school diplomas. It was my motherís choice to attend Delta College and earn her AA degree while holding down two jobs. As I was growing up my parents would always remind me how important receiving good grades and furthering my education was. They insisted that receiving diplomas would open up doors and create more opportunities for me; opportunities that they themselves would never receive. To this day, my father gets emotional when he talks about his education and how disappointed it makes him. He makes sure to call me once a week so that we can talk about school and I can tell in his voice that he is proud of me. Iím lucky to have such wonderful, supportive, and caring parents in my life.
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Reply from oscar brambila posted on October 2nd 2013
I really can relate to the blog written by Dr. Valero-Kerrick. My parents came as immigrants from Mexico to this country to provide a better life for us. I was born in the U.S but lived in Mexico for a year when I was 8 because of financial reasons. It was very hard to adapt back to this countries lifestyle and customs. I struggled at first but my mom was always there to tutor me when i needed help even though she was attending school and working full time. They always instilled education in us as a way to not have to do the manual work they had done for so many years. Their work ethic was instilled in me because I knew how hard they worked everyday to put food on the table and shelter over our heads. We didn't have the luxuries that many of my friends had and living in a motor home for many years was hard. But through all of that it only made us stronger and I realized that education was my future. My sister graduated from Sonoma State university and I graduated from Sacramento State University and am now going towards receiving my Master in Child Development. So Thank you for your inspiring and motivating story Dr. Valero-Kerrick, I'm positive you will change the lives of every student you speak to, regardless of their ethnicity.
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Reply from Angie Sales posted on September 30th 2013
Thank you for sharing this inspirational story Dr. Valero-Kerrick. Like your father, my father was also an agricultural worker for many years in Watsonville, CA. I learned a lot about work ethics from him. He taught me that with an education any thing is possible. Here I am the first in my family to graduate from college and the first in my family to pursue a Master's degree. I believe that our experiences that our parents share with us help mold us into the people we are today. We see and hear the hardships that they had to overcome and I could not imagine myself having to physically work as hard as my parents did. Your story is definitely an inspiration that a lot of college students can relate to. Thank you so much for sharing.
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Reply from Aisha Wahlstrom posted on September 29th 2013
I have not had any direct experience with Hispanics involved in education, but one of my former assistants in my home child care business was an immigrant from Guatemala. She was a single mother who was working an eight-hour shift and was also attending school at CRC where she received a departmental award, even though she lost her home at one point and was living in her car. She impressed me with her hard work and her ambition to better herself and her family. She always maintained a cheerful disposition despite all of her trials and tribulations.
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