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Homecoming: Building a Healthy School Community in the Rio Grande Valley
Maria Roque (Rio Grande Valley ’15) is well aware of the effect a Teach For America teacher can have on her students—she once sat in their seats.
Growing up in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, Maria was taught by several TFA corps members who had a lasting impact on her. “One of them, Sandra Nuñez, was my ninth grade World Geography teacher,” Maria says. “I still remember her projects, and that she emphasized finding out what was important to us, and what motivates us. She actually helped pique my interest in college, too.”
Today, Maria has returned home to the Valley as a 2015 corps member teaching science in the McAllen Independent School District.
As part of her school’s Health Committee, Maria contributes to various projects that are making her school community more health-conscious. The committee participates in McAllen ISD’s Healthy Schools Program, which has earned the bronze award from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, an initiative founded by the American Heart Association and Clinton Foundation.
That’s not all Maria’s hoping to accomplish in her initial year as a teacher.
“My main goal is for my children to achieve a sense of ownership of their education and future,” she says. “Sometimes, children don’t think knowledge comes from them. Having them value their ideas and beliefs is important.”
Maria was accepted to the Gates Millennium Scholar program in her senior year of high school, and went on to earn a degree in journalism at the University of Texas at Austin. She gained further perspective on the intersection of health, education, and socioeconomic status when she researched the topic in Brazil as part of a study-abroad program her senior year at UT.
“I decided to do TFA mainly because of personal reasons,” she says. “I lost my father to leukemia when I was 8, and I soon realized there were a lot of social determinants for health outcomes for people in the Valley, where poverty levels are high.
“Now I teach fifth grade science, and these are issues I want my students to be aware of, despite them being so young. I want to be their advocate.”
While her first year in the classroom can be frustrating at times, Maria’s experience overall has strengthened her resolve to make the most of her homecoming.
“My first language was Spanish, and I have so many students in the same situation,” she says. “I do see myself in them, in the sense that I once struggled with English and had parents who didn’t speak English. I was kind of an intermediary between two cultures.
“That’s why I’m here. I want my students to see me as an adult who went to college and can share this whole different worldview. It’s been a mix of eye-opening and upsetting to see what my kids go through, but I love being home and serving the Valley.”
Maria adds: “I want my students to develop a sense of urgency for their schoolwork because it’s going to help them prepare for the future—hopefully, college one day.”