SAN ANTONIO — Just a week away from meeting her students, Ana Perez spent Thursday organizing school supplies into cubbies lining the walls. Everything for her is new and overwhelmingly exciting: the small corner library, the new school supplies, even the small curtain on the door window brings a smile to her face.
This is Perez's fourth year teaching, but her first teaching in the United States. She spent most of her life in Puebla, Mexico.
"Right now, for me, it’s like I’m living my dream," she said. "I didn’t feel it was real."
This week, the teachers at Herff Elementary are busy setting up their classrooms ahead of the new school year. Down the hall from Perez, Sofia Mejia – native of Sonora, Mexico – shares in the excitement. She's transforming her classroom into a welcoming space for her kindergarten students, with a flag of Mexico proudly flying near the stars-and-stripes.
"It was a big change for me, because I’ve never left my hometown," Mejia said.
Teaching in the United States was Mejia's biggest goal. Just two weeks into her life in San Antonio, she's looking forward to her future with San Antonio ISD.
The district is welcoming 23 teachers from Mexico, Colombia, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica for the 2022-2023 school year. In an effort to address chronic dual-language teacher shortages, these teachers were recruited to SAISD through the help of International Alliance Group (IAG).
In the spring, the school board approved the use of federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) funds to recruit teachers for the program. Those instructors agree to stay with the district for three years, and are able to reapply for their fourth and fifth year.
The district also wanted to increase representation of educators to better reflect the close to 90% of students who identify as Hispanic/Latino. That's what Mejia and Perez said they are looking forward to the most.
Currently, there are more than 60 schools with dual-language programs.
"I want them to feel connected because, I mean, we come from the same culture," said Perez.
"It helps every kid so they can have both of our cultures in English and Spanish, and I think that’s awesome," Mejia added.
Before returning to her hometown of Puebla, Perez stepped into her first U.S. classroom at 8 years old. She didn't know a word of English, and most of her peers and teachers didn't speak Spanish.
"When of my teachers used to help me, I remember saying, 'I want to be like her, one day. I want to be like her,'" she said.
Both teachers will welcome their students August 16.
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