Breaking through the Barriers

Breaking through the Barriers

Every child deserves the best education, regardless of their background
By Edee Lemonier ’11

The majority of Early Childhood Education program professionals in Southwest Washington have either been educated or received continuing education through Clark’s program.

Harney Elementary Principal Lucy Estrada-Guzman

Lucy Estrada-Guzman ’90 was only an elementary school student when she started her first job. At an age when most kids are spending their summer days playing, she was busy working in fields alongside her migrant family in various parts of Washington.

Born in Los Angeles, Calif., to Latino parents, Estrada-Guzman and her family returned to California when she was a teenager, where they owned a small janitorial service. She attended the local high school, did homework in the afternoon, and then worked late into the night helping her parents clean office buildings.

By the time Estrada-Guzman was a senior her family had moved back to Washington and settled in Clark County. Although she knew she needed to continue her education, her plans took a slight detour after a discouraging meeting with a school counselor who told her she was better off working in a local restaurant. Instead of attending college, Estrada-Guzman waited tables until she could no longer ignore the nagging sense that much bigger things lay ahead for her. She decided to enroll at Clark College.

Though Estrada-Guzman, 42, initially attended Clark because the campus was close to where she lived, she immediately felt comfortable. “The atmosphere at Clark College is welcoming to everyone,” she explained. “I felt like I belonged and someone would help me.”

It was a work study program that got her in the door as a receptionist for Clark County’s Head Start and Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program, a program that helps low-income and at-risk children and families with school and life skills. While Estrada-Guzman was there, her supervisor suggested that she consider becoming a teacher. That comment piqued her interest. “I knew right then that’s what I would do.”

Estrada-Guzman strongly believes that education can change a child’s future.

“Regardless of where children come from or what’s happening in their home life, we have to instill resiliency in them,” she said.

Moving up

At Clark College, she found engaging instructors who modeled how to teach in a way that made learning accessible for all students. She fondly recalls Paul Casillas, who teaches math for elementary teachers. “He made math something that I could partake in. If he can teach me math, then I could teach children math,” she said.

Estrada-Guzman graduated from Clark in 1990 and transferred to University of Portland where she completed her bachelor’s degree. A few years into her teaching career, she decided she wanted to make a difference in the lives of more than just her classroom students. So she went back to college, got her master’s degree and earned administrative credentials while holding down her teaching job.

In 2004, she got a job as the associate principal at Sarah J. Anderson Elementary School, where she was instrumental in piloting a dual-language program in kindergarten and first grade.

Two years later she achieved her goal of becoming principal. She rolled up her sleeves and got to work launching the program in a different grade level each year. Within five years students at all grades levels were spending half their day learning Spanish. Sarah J. Anderson became the first school to have a fully implemented two-way dual language program in Southwest Washington.

Estrada-Guzman’s education was made possible because of Clark’s Early Childhood Education program (ECE). More than 130 individuals are educated annually in ECE. The majority of ECE professionals in Southwest Washington have either been educated or received continuing education through Clark’s program.

The facilities, however, are outdated. A 1970s-era building that was designed to last for 25 years is still in use. The high cost of maintaining the buildings supersedes the dollars available for new equipment and space.

Clark College opened the Oliva Family Early Learning Center, a $2.5 million facility for toddlers and pre-K in 2011. The private/public partnership also resulted in a Little Penguins’ Gardens outdoor area, classrooms outfitted with age-appropriate learning tools and improved safety features.

The next phase of the project is essential in fulfilling Clark’s goals of improving safety, enhancing classrooms and expanding the resources required for the workforce needs of early learning professions in Southwest Washington. Clark is currently exploring the scope of phase II to determine the cost and dimensions of the facility.

Lucy Estrada-Guzman

Making science fun

Estrada-Guzman knows how important modern resources are. She partners with the college because she’s confident Clark is committed to offering students relevant and timely facts. As a result, the exploration of technology and science is available to children in the community who otherwise might not have access to it.

Rather than just playing computer games and learning to navigate the Internet, students learn how to write computer programs to create their own games. She has watched children’s motivation skyrocket when they realized they liked science, technology, engineering and math.

Estrada-Guzman reached out to Clark for more. When she instituted an English program, she called on Clark instructors to teach English as a Second Language classes for parents, while volunteers helped children with homework and readied pre-school children for kindergarten.

With the help of instructors and student volunteers from Clark College, 4th and 5th grade students participated in an after-school robotics program in which they learned about robot technology, as well as biology, chemistry and computer science. Even Clark’s mascot, Oswald the penguin, joined the students during the graduation ceremony, and students were excited to receive certificates in front of their proud parents.

In 2011, Estrada-Guzman took another step in her brilliant career to become the principal at Harney Elementary School. She brought with her many of the same programs and services she implemented at Sarah J. Anderson. She took over Harney Elementary School’s dual-language program, the first full-immersion program in Southwest Washington. This year 255 students are participating and Estrada-Guzman is once again working diligently to expand the program to all grade levels.

When she takes a moment out of her hectic day to reflect on why she has taken the road as an administrator, she says, “I decided to be a school principal because I wanted to impact an entire building’s philosophy toward teaching. My philosophy is that all children must have access to the high-quality education they deserve.”

It’s Estrada-Guzman’s work ethic that drives her. From the days of toiling in the fields to the demands of running an elementary school, Estrada-Guzman believes that anyone can reach their potential if they are given access to educational tools and are in a safe environment to explore their passions.

Thanks to her first-rate education at Clark, Estrada-Guzman is changing the lives within her school, as well as extending her reach beyond the building by teaching and empowering an entire community.

Edee Lemonier ’11 is a writer based in Vancouver and a former fourth grade teacher.

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