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Principal Monica Rodriguez prides herself in being a fluent bilingual educator


As we walked around Hartman Elementary, Principal Monica Rodriguez and I were in awe at the hustle and bustle of a busy elementary school post-lunch. Among the joyful laughs of children being guided by exceptional educators, we heard the staff and students speaking Spanish among themselves, something seemingly normal that happens on campus.

Being one of the district’s bilingual immersion campuses, acquiring Spanish as a second language is incorporated in all aspects of learning, something Rodriguez (and the staff) take pride in.

“It's a beautiful thing to be bilingual and to promote a campus that teaches the children how to speak Spanish,” Rodriguez said. “I'm modeling to them that it is a good thing to have two languages and that it is okay to speak in those two forms. We are going to make sure that children have that gift of language because language opens doors.”

The Spanish language is a pillar of pride in the Latino culture. And during National Hispanic Heritage Month, spotlighting prominent Hispanics is crucial to ensuring a basic understanding of the complex Latino culture. That also means highlighting prominent Hispanic leaders within our district, which Rodriguez is one.

Incredibly proud of her roots as a first-generation American in El Paso, Texas, she started her career as a special education teacher. As a child, she was taught that hard work in all aspects of life leads to success.

“As [my parents] raised us, they raised us with the idea that - if you don't work hard and commit yourself to what you want, then nothing happens after that. Nothing happens,” Rodriguez said. “And no one gives it to you. And you don't deserve it. And you're not entitled to it. But hard work will always get you a step closer every time.”

The goal was always to serve her community as a teacher. At that time, teaching positions were rare to come by, so she had to set herself apart from her peers.

“I had a mentor very early on and she took me under her wing. And she said, ‘you know, I've watched you doing your student teaching. I've watched how you work with kids. Why don't you try special education,’” Rodriguez said.

And she did.

She started her career advocating for special education children, especially those from Latino communities.

“I served the underserved,” Rodriguez said. “And typically, it's very difficult to identify children [who have special needs], especially in a heavily Hispanic-dominant community. Parents don't typically see their children with a disability. They just think it's - different. They don't always advocate. So, we needed an advocate for them.”

Her husband Ray, with whom she’s had a storybook life, was also investing in the Latino community as a bilingual teacher. They grew up in the same neighborhood, hung out with the same circle of friends, went to college together, and eventually taught at the same campus.

Giving back to their community has been ingrained in who they are from the beginning of both their careers in El Paso.

Then, life happened.

An opportunity was offered to the Rodriguez Family they couldn’t pass up, which took them to San Antonio, Texas. However, Rodriguez continued to give back to her community, utilizing all the resources she had learned up to that point to teach underserved students to read in San Antonio ISD.

“I had kids who couldn't read. I had children who were in middle school and didn't know the letters of the alphabet or couldn’t even spell. I took to the copy machine and pulled out all the resources I had. I pulled out the textbooks. I did everything. I had to drill it down and teach them how to read,” Rodriguez said.

It’s always been about serving the underserved, from her time in El Paso to San Antonio.

After nearly 20 years in the classroom, it was time for her to impact her community at a higher level. She went back to school at Texas A&M University - Commerce, where she earned her Master's degree in Education. She was welcomed to the Judson Family as the Assistant Director of Special Education.

She loved what she did for all special education families. She is a people person. But, her heart guided her back to the campus. In 2018, she took over Hartman Elementary as Principal. She was where her heart was - with kids and leading a bilingual immersion campus.

“What [our students] need is somebody who will give it everything and try even further, and recruit the staff that has that ability to just give it everything too. I just know that I'm willing to do that. I'm willing - every day - to give it everything,” Rodriguez said.

She continues to do what she started back in El Paso - consistently helping students, directly and indirectly, by leading a diverse campus of students and staff with a variety of needs.

“I pride myself that I'm a fluent bilingual educator. It's a beautiful thing to be bilingual and to promote a campus that teaches the children how to speak Spanish,” Rodriguez said. “I always made sure I was sitting at tables talking to different people who might have the ability to influence another piece of change and make a little bit of a pivot [for the campus and our students],” Rodriguez said.

And that influence doesn’t stop at Hartman Elementary.

“I would hope - as a culture - that Latinos help embrace each other, to lift each other up. I think we have other cultural groups that do a fantastic job of helping each other to the next level and not be so competitive. We need to help each other move in directions and support each other. It can be a beautiful thing,” Rodriguez said.

During Hispanic Heritage Month, it is vital to spotlight students, programs, and leaders who take pride in their authenticness, and Ms. Rodriguez is a prime example of a proud, Latina, educational leader who finds value in giving back to the Judson ISD Family.

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