Maria Magaña marks the beginning of her educational journey as June of 1996 the day she graduated from Porterville Adult School with her high school diploma. Director Gary Ingraham called on Maria to lead the Pledge of Allegiance at the graduation ceremony. "This was such an honor for me," she said, "I was honored to be chosen to share my story that was put on the front page of the town's newspaper."
Because she had to work, Maria attended school only one day a week – Wednesday. She decided to take the GED Test, "and to my surprise, I passed all subjects." She immediately began working on the additional credits she needed to earn a High School Diploma.
Once she received her diploma Maria decided to enter the Certified Nurse Assistant program offered by Porterville Adult School. She called it "a great opportunity" to learn nursing skills while she continued working and furthering her education. Since her first job was in the evenings at a private care home, she was able to take classes at Porterville College, where she enrolled in the spring of 1997.
"In time, I found out how demanding both the job and school were because I worked from 3:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m." says Maria, "Very tired, I would get home by midnight, but I did manage to do some homework at work after I was done with my chores." Then she was in school and doing homework from 8 a.m. until she needed to be at work again. Through all this she still found time to care for her husband and three children.
Maria graduated from Porterville College in the spring of 2001 with an A.A. degree in Social Science. "I felt that if I was able to accomplish what I had done, then I was ready for a university." Additional classes had given her the confidence, and helped her meet requirements, to enroll at California State University, Bakersfield. While continuing her homecare job, she began attending classes in the winter of 2002.
"I had begun the biggest challenge of my life," she says. "I was very fortunate, as two other friends were also going through the same challenge; so we commuted and studied together. The university time was so unforgettable, because the challenge had gotten harder to handle. Some of the classes that I had to take were so difficult since I, myself, was an English Language Learner. Some classes I had to retake in order to pass them."
Maria graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree and a Teaching Credential in 2004. "This accomplishment was far from what I expected to happen at this time of my life. This was something that I always wanted and yearned for; but, I did not know how or when I was going to do it. My parents, for ignorance or need, took me out of school at the age of sixteen when I was just learning English. I had just been in school for four years, here, in the United States."
At age 11 Maria had come from Mexico. She was in the third grade, and was the second of fourteen children. "When my parents took me out of school, our job was to work in the fields here, in the Porterville area. We worked in just about anything and everything that was field work, such as picking tomatoes, peaches, prunes, walnuts, and grapes; but, most of all, we picked oranges."
Maria now teaches English in an elementary school in the Porterville Unified School District as part of a pull-out program directed toward newcomers. "I have enjoyed doing this job," she says, "because I can relate to the students." She also teaches ESL at Porterville Adult School, where her popular classes have more students than any of the other ESL classes. "Her students love her and appreciate her passion for teaching and helping them learn," says nominator Karen Rappleye, Assistant Director of the Adult School.
"This is so rewarding and exciting for me because I can raise and promote awareness of education in adults. I am teaching and equipping them so that they will also be able to someday soon reach their goals or dreams." Maria’s love of teaching is based in her desire to "return to the community what was given to me."
"The Adult School experience was intimidating at first, but now that I look back, it was the best thing I have done in my lifetime," she continues. "This is the reason that I will be a pioneer in education within the adult community."
Maria has developed a love of reading and is committed to teaching others and promoting literacy, especially among women and girls. Literacy was a significant factor in her own success, and her experience is the engine that drives her passion. "My parents did not know how much I wanted to stay in school and did not know how much I cried the night they told me I would not return to school. They did not know how much I craved to learn anything that was new to me and despite the hardships and problems that I had in school, I faced them as opportunities to learn and to grow as an individual and as a student. I was able to overcome any problem and succeed."
Maria says she would do it all over again, given the chance. Her goal is to share her life experiences and spread her success so that women and girls will know "there is hope of succeeding regardless of their life's circumstances."