Nobody understands the challenges faced by students living in the Rio Grande Valley better than Dr. SantaPaula Garcia, the new executive director for Teach for America in the Rio Grande Valley. In an area where the median household income is at least 14 percent lower than the Texas average, a large number of students are facing poverty. Many of them also face additional barriers to education, like struggling to learn a new language or being the first-generation students in their family.
Dr. SantaPaula Garcia is very familiar with these obstacles and was able to overcome them herself. “I am a first generation college graduate. I was living in Mexico for the first ten years of my life and English is my second language. My parents were migrant, minimum wage workers,” shares Dr. Garcia. “The one thing they instilled in me and my brother is that the only way to have a better life was to stay in school. Both my brother and myself are college graduates. Now we are in a position where we are able to help out our parents because of the opportunities they afforded us.”
Dr. SantaPaula Garcia was pursuing her graduate studies in History when she came across a flyer for the Teach for America program. “The idea of working with a group of people that are like-minded for a common mission excited me and attracted me to Teach for America,” says Garcia. She enrolled in the program in 1998 and taught in the Mission area for over three years.
After graduating from the program, she continued on a career focused on changing education in the Valley. She served as project manager for Educate Texas, was the founding principal for IDEA Donna, served as education specialist for RGV Lead, and directed three Teach for America summer teacher training institutes. “We are so excited to have Paula leading Teach For America in the Rio Grande Valley,” said Julian Alvarez, President and CEO of RGV Partnership and a member of the Teach For America–Rio Grande Valley advisory board. “Paula has been working to bring greater education opportunities to the children of the Rio Grande Valley for over 15 years and will be an ardent leader for the great work of Teach For America in the Valley.”
Just like Dr. Garcia, the teachers participating in the program are strongly committed to achieving educational equality in disadvantaged communities. Teach for America seeks to eliminate educational inequality by enlisting a diverse group of high-achieving recent college graduates and professionals to teach. Program participants are matched to the particular needs of specific schools so they are able to make a long-lasting impact in the community.