Vanessa Lugo-Acevedo, a preschool teacher recently honored at the White House, says the experience of her immigrant parents during her years in school is what spurred her to enter the profession.
"It made my parents sad not to be able to communicate with the teachers, who assumed that education was not important to my family, though that's certainly not how it was," she told Efe.
Her recent honor - being named a White House Champion of Change Latino Educator - represents recognition for everyone who helped her, Lugo-Acevedo said.
"What my parents and I needed, and what many Latino families need, are (role) models of Latino instructors in the schools," she said. "There are few of those Latino models in the schools and we need many more of those teachers. That's why I came to teaching."
The California native and veteran of the Teach for America program was one of 10 people recognized by the President's Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics during an Aug. 31 ceremony at the White House.
Lugo-Acevedo earned the distinction through her work teaching pre-kindergarten at the Cole Arts and Sciences Academy, a public school serving a low-income community in northeast Denver.
Sixty-three percent of Cole's just over 600 students are Hispanic and almost all of the pupils qualify for free or reduced-price meals. Two in every three neighborhood residents are immigrants.
"I feel happy seeing the growth my students. They arrive not knowing numbers or how to write their names. But by the end of their time with me, they know how to do it. That is something very motivating," Lugo-Acevedo said.
"Vanessa's impact on the Cole community is a model for all of our corps members and alumni, and we're inspired by her work and that of her fellow honorees," Amanda Fernandez, vice president of Latino community partnerships at Teach For America, said.
Teach for America mobilizes graduates of prestigious colleges and established professionals from various fields to spend two years teaching at schools in disadvantaged areas.
Lugo-Acevedo said the despair she sees in many minority students is often a reaction to teachers' lack of respect for their pupils.
"Teachers don't tell them they can do more. But I know they can," she said. "I was the first in my family to reach college, graduating from the University of California, Los Angeles in 2010. And I know they can do more because those students are my own blood."
She said she hopes her success will open doors for young Latinos and "motivate them to pursue a career in the educational system."
"Our children need teachers who not only given them the high-quality education they deserve, but a teacher who communicates to them every day that their culture, their language and their roots are worth a lot and will help them triumph," Lugo-Acevedo said. EFE