Carmen Garcia has implemented in a rural Southern California school district personalized study plans that have successfully improved the performance by her mainly Hispanic students.

The 34-year-old superintendent of the Borrego Springs Unified School District said that her own experience as one of 10 siblings in a Mexican family, able to settle in the United States together thanks to the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, shows that success is possible however humble a student's origins.

Though her parents never got beyond primary school, they always stressed the importance of education.

Borrego Springs in the midst of the desert is home to a mix of white retirees and Latino farmworkers.

Despite her youth, Garcia has more than 14 years' experience as an educator, and for three years she was recently principal of San Diego's Roosevelt High School, where she was responsible for 900 students, twice the number of the entire Borrego Springs district.

"The students have different needs since Borrego is strictly rural, and while in Roosevelt the main needs are linguistic because the kids don't yet speak an educated English, in Borrego the main challenge is overcoming the isolation and giving them a chance," the superintendent said.

In two years she was able to raise their grades an average of 80 points on standardized state tests, Garcia said, working not only on the basic subjects of English, math and science, but also by emphasizing discipline, the arts and the study of languages that will prepare them to be "students of the world."

While Roosevelt had museums nearby, Garcia said, and students could go outside the classroom to expand their world, in Borrego Springs "I want to make sure that just because they live in an isolated place they're not going to miss that rich experience."

Determined to achieve that goal, the superintendent signed accords with nearby institutions of higher learning such as Palomar College and California State University, San Marcos.

"I ask our teachers never to give up, every adult is here to work for the youngsters and we have to open a future for them," Garcia said.

The superintendent considered it of key importance that parents join groups that allow them to be their children's allies in the educational process.

"Parents need to learn skills to navigate the U.S. educational system, which is a labyrinth. We have to know the rules of how to play the game so they get into college, such as taking classes preparing them for that level, and the importance of having a computer with Internet at home," Garcia said.

"I hope that my personal experience - learning English in just one year in fourth grade, which in turn allowed me to study in advanced classes - will make me a model for Hispanics and show that they can do it too," she said.