#LatinosTeach, Honoring Cirilo Ojeda


Cirilo Ojeda

High School Math Teacher

Pasadena, TX

Cirilo Moreno Ojeda, Jr. is the oldest boy of 9 siblings. He has a Bachelor of Science in Information Systems Technology from the University of Houston and a Master of Education in Instruction Leadership from Lamar University. This is his eleventh year as a classroom teacher and football coach where he serves as the offensive coordinator. Ojeda’s roles have included teaching 7th Grade Math, Algebra I, Math Models, Independent Studies Math, and now his role is focused on closing the achievement gap as the Math Department Intervention Teacher at Pasadena High School.

He commits his time to the whole school with various roles over the years as the sponsor for the Senior Class, Young Knights’ Leadership Academy, and the Eagle Elite Fitness Club. His leadership roles have included being the Algebra I Team Leader, Rice University School Mathematics Project, Expectation Graduation, and the campus Eagle Vision Team member.

Ojeda’s current time is spent working with at-risk students throughout the campus and helping them get on track and stay on track to graduate high school. It is very challenging at times, but well worth the effort. Ojeda has been nationally honored by Omega Delta Phi Fraternity, Inc. as a Knight of the Round Table. He has raised over $10,000 for various groups that he works with on campus. He volunteers his time to the East End Eagles Youth Football organization and has worked with local area youth with the Houston Texans Youth Football Camp and camps hosted by Arian Foster and Brian Cushing.

Why do you teach?

I teach because I am the oldest boy of 9 siblings. I accepted this role at a very young age and it has always been my job to lead and take care of others. Adversity, my story, and my experiences drive me to make me who I am. I feel it’s a calling that I have answered and take very seriously. There is always something I can give and the best part is when I can learn something from a student that helps me be a better educator. I teach because I always believe that every day there is someone I need to have a conversation with to help them get through their day. I like to build positive relationships and show young people that they can achieve anything. I feel it is important to teach them that their background, heritage, or socioeconomic status are NOT excuses to fail, but tools to help them grow to become stronger and successful individuals.

What do you love about teaching?

What I love about teaching is the daily interactions that I have with students to help them grow as a person. There are many choices students are faced with and being able to help them reflect on what they do and what they could do better is what I love the most. The academic piece is easier to achieve when positive relationships are built, confidence increases and expectations are raised and raised again as the year goes on. I love seeing and hearing from my former students that find success with higher education, careers, and their family.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you?

Deborah Nasir inspired me to be more than I believed myself to be. I was a student athlete and while the term says what it should be, she said I was her oxymoron because I was a football player but also in advanced classes, top 10% in my class, and in the National Honor Society. She never let me produce anything less in her class than the expectation she individually set for me and I am truly grateful for the inspiration to become an educator like her.

Honoring Mayra A. Lara


Mayra A. Lara

High School English Teacher

Maywood, CA

Mayra Lara is a high school English teacher who loves integrating literature to contemporary social issues. Mayra was born in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico and immigrated to the United States with her parents and older sister when she was three months old. She grew up in the Baldwin Village of Los Angeles and fondly remembers the apartment complex where she lived as it was filled with extraordinary people whose daily struggles were often dwarfed by urban sounds. Although the world outside of her complex was chaotic, the life her parents created for her and her siblings was rather calm. This background helps her create meaningful and lasting relationships with students so that they enter her classroom open to learning. Mayra received her B.A. in English Literature from California State University Long Beach where she also obtained her M.A. in Social and Cultural Analysis of Education. As a Teach Plus Policy Fellow, Mayra was featured in The Wall Street Journal and participated in a round table discussion with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. She is currently working on a doctoral degree in Educational Leadership for Social Justice at Loyola Marymount University and is enjoying applying theory to practice. In addition to teaching for nine years, Mayra has served as the English department chair, union representative, Students Run L.A. coach, adviser to several clubs, and was named Bell Teacher of the Year in 2014. Currently, she is working on helping to create safe spaces at her campus for young women to voice their dreams, fears, and aspirations

Why do you teach? I teach because growing up, school was one of my only safe spaces and I want to help create that for other students. I also love learning. I love sitting in classrooms and engaging in meaningful conversations with others and I think that I have learned more through dialoguing with my students over the years than they will ever learn from me.

What do you love about teaching? I love the sound of purposeful noise in my classroom just as much as I love the sound of awkward silence. I think that it’s during these times that the most important thinking and learning are happening. Most of all, though, what I love most about teaching is meeting young people, hearing their stories, and developing lasting student-teacher relationships

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you? Yes! Carlos Valverde was my high school AP Spanish teacher and one of the most inspiring people I have ever met. He always encouraged me to challenge myself academically as well as think about college as a reality even though, at that time, I was an undocumented student. I think more than anything, Dr. Valverde helped me understand the world around me and find my place in it.

Honoring Lessie Paugh Ortiz


Lessie Paugh Ortiz

High School ESOL Reading Teacher

Orlando, FL

From the tender age of six, Lessie Paugh Ortiz knew she wanted to become a teacher. She was quick to use any wall as a chalkboard and her siblings as pupils.  A 27-year veteran educator, she continues instilling her passion for language and reading to her high school students.  Today she proudly works at Freedom High School in Orlando, Florida as an ESOL reading teacher. Prior to assuming this role, Paugh Ortiz was an ESL teacher for 19-years in Puerto Rico.  Her commitment to education led her to support the work of the Project for Acquiring Language Mastery and Advanced Skills where she teaches adult learners twice a week. She also served in the Parent Leadership Council representing the Southwest Community. Lessie holds a Master’s degree in English as a Second Language from the University of Turabo and a Bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Puerto Rico in Mayagüez.

Why do I teach?

I have always known I wanted to be a teacher. I observed many of my teachers and emulated them – my siblings were my guinea pigs! Later on, I got the chance to help an English teacher with her first grade class. She explained what I needed to do. It was fun to see the students learn and practice the words in sentences. That was my “aha” moment that completely confirmed I wanted to be a teacher.

What do I love about teaching?

There are many moments that illustrate what I love about teaching. I love to interact with my students and see them accomplish significant benchmarks. I beam with pride when my students make literary reference to other books or authors. It is seeing the students’ progress long after they leave my class. It is seeing their eyes lit up because they start to believe in themselves.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you?   

I was blessed to have many amazing teachers influence my life. My first grade teacher, Mrs. Bermúdez, was strict and ran a structured class, yet constantly demonstrated her endless patience. My family had just returned to Puerto Rico from the States and I did not speak Spanish at the time. Mrs. Bermúdez helped ease the transition. I learned to read, write and speak Spanish that year! In seventh grade, it was Mrs. Morales who taught English literature and made reading feel like an adventure. In high school, it was Miss Ortiz, my English teacher, who encouraged my reading and suggested that I teach. Many teachers inspired my teaching journey, and I continue to borrow from each of their methods and apply those methods in my classroom.


Honoring Christopher De Leon


Christopher De Leon

Middle School Science Teacher

Hudson, WI

Born in Corpus Christi, Texas, Christopher De Leon is an engineering and technology teacher at Hudson Middle School in Hudson Wisconsin. He has been teaching at Hudson Middle School for 16 years since receiving his Bachelor of Science Degree in Technology Education from the University of Wisconsin-Stout.  He also has a Master’s Degree in education from St. Mary’s University.  Coming from a family that values hard work and dedication, Christopher brought that work ethic with him to his school.  Christopher is member of the school districts “Teaching, Learning and Assessment” Committee, Technology Committee, SMART Goal Team and the Site Based Leadership Team.  He established the school districts summer STEM camp for students in elementary and middle school.  Mr. Deleon is also the mentor for student STEM Competition teams.  On a personal note, Christopher Deleon and his wife recently adopted 3 special needs children from the foster care system bringing their total number of children up to 5. Christopher has earned many accolades as an educator including: Herb Kohl Educational Foundation Fellowship Award, Space Academy for Educators “Right Stuff Award” and NASA Explorer Schools Merit Roll Educators.

Why do you Teach?

I became a teacher in order to help students reach their full potential. My goal is to challenge my students to be better than they feel they are capable of being.   I want all of my students to become lifelong learners that embrace learning as a natural part of who they are.  I expect the very best from my students and I give them the best that I have to offer in order to help them achieve that goal.

What do you love about teaching?

What I love about teaching is seeing the student’s joy when they find success while tackling a challenging lesson. Helping the students feel that they can do something when they feel they can’t do it is amazing!

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you?

When I was growing up, I had many good teachers but I can’t remember a teacher that I would say is “Great”. I do remember a history teacher when I was in middle school that was just about the worst teacher ever.  She made me feel like I was worthless as a student and like I was a waste of time.  I vowed that I would always make it a point to never be like that teacher.  Every morning, I promise myself every day that I will provide the very best education experience for my students that I can.  I quite literally say that to myself every morning.  My students deserve the best and that’s what I vow to give them.

ParentCamp International: Engaging Leaders from Immigrant Communities

This is cross-posted from the U.S. Department of Education blog, Homeroom

ParentCamp International included several breakout sessions. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

ParentCamp International included several breakout sessions. (Photo credit: U.S. Department of Education)

When I first heard about the first ParentCamp International, I knew I had to be there! As a Hispanic/Latina mother of a son receiving Special Education services and who works closely with international families in schools, I felt I couldn’t miss the opportunity to meet decision makers in our educational system and share stories and experiences of our groups.

It was an eventful day! In addition to hearing from representatives of the White House, Justice Department and Secretary of Education John King, we were able to network and share stories during many breakout group sessions, which were incredibly meaningful.

During these sessions, we had truly honest conversations about issues international families and minorities face in our schools and communities. We were all able to talk about how we could collaborate to make changes that would positively impact their experiences. One thing that resonated in every session I attended was that every school with a high number of non-English speakers should have one or more bilingual liaison to assist these families and create a welcoming environment.

During the session about supporting families of students in special education (a topic dear to my heart for obvious reasons), we were able to talk about making the IEP (Individualized Education Plan) process friendlier for non-English speaking families. Having a child with developmental delays has taught me so much about compassion and acceptance, and whenever I sit at one of his IEP meetings, I cannot help but think about families who do not speak or understand English. Much of the terminology used in IEP documents can be very intimidating, even for English speakers! So, acknowledging something like this was very important to me. As a group, we talked about the importance of having highly qualified and trained interpreters who have a depth knowledge of all the vocabulary and terms commonly used in Special Education.

I also had the opportunity to attend a session about bridging cultural gaps between parents and children of different cultures – and this was perhaps the most enlightening. It was great to hear firsthand from immigrant parents of backgrounds that are different from my own. These parents were asking for more resources to help them get involved in their children’s education, especially more bilingual staff in schools. Many of them have the language barrier and don’t know who to look for when they need help. It was interesting to see how every school district has different programs to assist international families. Some are way ahead than others in the process, which is why we discussed how important it is for parents and community leaders to advocate for more resources and have their voices heard in events such as this.

ParentCamp International exceeded my expectations. I participated in real brainstorming sessions on how we could improve our educational system and provide international families the resources and tools to help their children be successful academically.

But perhaps the most important thing I took away from this experience was the people I met. This was a great chance to network with other parents and representatives from other school districts. I met a few parents from Virginia and Maryland who also have children in special education. We talked about our fears, struggles and hopes for the future. I also met others from Howard and Fairfax County who work with International families as well. We shared our concerns and the things we do in our schools to support family involvement. It got me thinking about the saying, “It takes a village.” It really does take an entire community to make substantial changes — and I am sure these conversations were the start of something great!

Valerie Perez Vega is a parent of four and was a ParentCamp International attendee. She also works with international families in Anne Arundel County Public Schools in Maryland as a Bilingual Family and Community Outreach Facilitator.

Honoring Matthew Medrano


Matthew Medrano

High School Science Teacher

Los Angeles, CA

Matthew Medrano is currently a science teacher at the Green Design School at the Diego Rivera Learning Complex in South Los Angeles. His passion is the environment, and he shares this passion with his students during his Environmental Science and Advanced Placement Environmental Science classes.  He graduated from California State University Long Beach with a Bachelor’s in Biology and an option in Education.  He received his credential from the Transition to Teaching Program at California State University Dominguez Hills.  Mr. Medrano shares his passion for the environment with his students on a daily basis, working to create solutions for school, community, and worldwide environmental problems.  Additional, Mr. Medrano works with students daily to unlock their passions and create roadmaps into colleges like UCLA, USC, and CSULB.  In 2013 Mr. Medrano became a Nationally Board Certified Teacher, joining an elite group of teachers recognized for their excellence in teaching and learning.  Additionally, in 2014 Mr. Medrano joined UCLA’s Center X Science Project as a Lead Teacher, helping to introduce computer science, computational thinking, and Next Generation Science Standards into classrooms across the Greater Los Angeles area. Mr. Medrano is continuing his education of teaching and learning, working on his M.Ed at California State University Dominguez Hills.

Why do you teach?

I teach because it’s my passion. I know education is power.  I want to empower my students to follow their passions and empower others.

What do you love about teaching?

I love the “A-Ha” moments that I experience in teaching. Whether it is adult learners or student learners, seeing the accomplishment and faces of students when they solve a problem or create their own solution is unparalleled.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you?

I was fortunate to go through school with many inspiring teachers.  However, the teacher that made the biggest impact in my life would have to be my Journalism teacher, Mr. Slagle.  In my four years with him, he allowed me to fail and succeed in a safe environment.  The trust and responsibility he placed in his students allowed them to practice real-world skills in a safe environment.  He is a prime example of living your passion.  His dedication to English Language Arts and Journalism extend beyond the classroom into the Greater Los Angeles Community.

Welcome Deputy Director Jaqueline Cortez-Wang

Jaqueline Cortez Wang Official Photo

The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (Initiative) welcomes Jaqueline Cortez-Wang to serve as Deputy Director.

In this role, Jaqueline will serve as primary advisor to the Executive Director and help ensure that the objectives of the Initiative are fully executed. Jaqueline has served as Hispanic Communications and Outreach Director in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Communications and Outreach since 2011 and has been instrumental in the development and execution of the public affairs, public engagement, and education efforts focused on Hispanic stakeholders. For much of 2015, Jaqueline detailed to the Initiative as a senior advisor, leading the project strategy and development of the Initiative’s 25th anniversary call for Commitments to Action. 

Prior to joining the Department, Jaqueline built her career at NASA Johnson Space Center, starting as a high school cooperative education student. She ended her NASA career 13 years later as a Senior Supervisor for the Human Research Program Education & Outreach office leading the development of youth education programs focused on motivating young students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

A native of Pasadena, Texas, Jaqueline holds an Associate of Arts degree in Business Administration from San Jacinto College-Central, Texas, a dual Bachelor of Business Administration in Management and Marketing, and a Master of Arts in Cross-Cultural Studies from the University of Houston-Clear Lake. She is also a graduate of the National Hispanic Professional Organization’s Leadership Institute.

Jaqueline can be reached via email at jaqueline.cortezwang@ed.gov.




Honoring Veronica Perez


Veronica Perez

Elementary Arts Teacher

Arlington, VA

Veronica Perez is a Prek-5 grade art teacher at Arlington Traditional School. She holds a Bachelor of Secondary Art Education from the Inter American University of Puerto Rico as well as a Master of Arts in Multicultural/Bilingual Education from George Mason University. She also has a Master’s Degree Equivalent in Studio Art from VCU.

During the 2011-2012 she worked in a photography project called “This is My City/ This is My Community,” where children in rural Uganda learned how to use cameras to share their life stories and culture with the community of Arlington. Their artwork was on display at the Arlington Arts Center. This project had a huge impact globally and within Arlington school communities.

Veronica is an Arlington County Public schools facilitator for Courageous Conversations on Racial Equity. The initiative aims at increasing students’ achievements by eliminating race and the acquisition of English as a predictor of success in Arlington Public Schools.

Veronica has the respect and admiration of students, parents, and colleagues. She contributes to the field of education by conducting seminars and workshops and being involved in training and assisting fellow teachers in their professional development. She is a school leader and is very involved with the larger community. She is the Humanities Project Representative for her school. She has used this leadership position to bring diversity to her students by selecting performances to share at school-wide assemblies.

Veronica is also a practicing artist, active in leadership positions in numerous community artists groups including: Del Ray Artisans, The Arlington Artist Alliance, Art Latin American Collective Project (ALACP), and the Latino Art League (TLAL).

In 2015 she was recognized as the Victoria D. de Sanchez Northern Hispanic Teacher of the Year due to her ability to impart knowledge to all of her students and to inspire students from all backgrounds to learn to their full capacity despite any socioeconomic disadvantages. In 2015 she was also recognized as a 40 Under 40 Honoree by Leadership Arlington for been an inspirational teacher and a distinguished young leader in the education field.

Why do you teach?

I am passionate about teaching because I feel that I can make a positive impact in my students’ life. As a Latina teacher, I strive to give a voice to all children. I want to be able to represent the underrepresented. I believe that if each of us care enough for the youth, we will see a difference in our world. If we care enough, we will help create a more fair, happy and peaceful world for our children to live in.  I understand that it is extremely important that each child feel proud of who they are and feel accepted. Accepted not just in the way they look but also in the way they “see” things. I feel very proud of my Latin roots and I want my students to also celebrate who they are. I believe that self- acceptance is important in my students’ personal and professional success and growth.

What do you love about teaching?

I love that every child can be successful in my classroom regardless of their economic background, interests, abilities or ethnicity.  I also like the opportunity to enhance my students’ life through authentic learning with hands-on art projects and I love seeing them succeed. I never get bored when I teach. Every day is filled with many opportunities to learn and fun!

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you? 

I have lots of teachers that inspired me in one way or another, but in 7th grade I had an amazing teacher (Maria Quiros) that stood out from the others. She was organized, responsible, hardworking, and knowledgeable; but the qualities that I admire the most are that she was caring and kind. More than a teacher, she was a friend. She showed me that I could be anything I wanted if I worked hard. She also challenged me and helped me build my confidence and self- esteem. She is the reason I believe that I can accomplish anything in life. I hope that I can become to my students the teacher she was to me.

Local Efforts Supporting Latino Teacher Recruitment

Posted by White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics

On April 20, 2016, the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics (WHIEEH) hosted the next in its series of Bright Spots in Hispanic Education (Bright Spots) Google+ Hangouts. The Google+ Hangout highlighted the tremendous efforts of Bright Spots focused on Latino teacher recruitment around the country. Ruthanne Buck, Senior Advisor to the Secretary of Education and Maria Pastrana Lujan, Senior Advisor at the WHIEEH, hosted : Academy for Teacher Excellence, TX, Bilingual Education Program at Texas A&M University, TX, Grow your Own Teachers (GYO), IL, Mini-Corps Program at Fresno State, CA, STEM Transformation Institute (STI), FL, T.E.A.C.H. Early Childhood, NC, and the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). The Google Hangout was a dynamic and educational discussion featuring promising practices and strategies supporting Latino teacher recruitment.

Teachers can be the most influential figure in a students’ educational journey. As the Latino population continues to grow, it is imperative to have a teaching workforce that reflects the student population and our diverse nation. Currently, one in four public school students are Hispanic, yet only 7.8% of the teaching workforce is Hispanic. Resources and support are critical to maintain top talented Hispanic teachers in education. Bright Spots are helping to combat this disparity through their efforts.

Ruthanne Buck, Senior Advisor to the Secretary of Education, and Maria Pastrana Lujan, Senior Advisor at the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, host Google + Hangout on Latino Teacher Recruitment on April 20, 2016.

Ruthanne Buck, Senior Advisor to the Secretary of Education, and Maria Pastrana Lujan, Senior Advisor at the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, host Google + Hangout on Latino Teacher Recruitment on April 20, 2016.

Throughout the Google hangout, the Bright Spots shared how each has been successful in recruiting and retaining teachers and highlighted best practices. Best practices included: creating partnerships with their local community colleges, creating teacher learning communities, and allowing hands-on student experiences during their freshman year. They also discussed the importance of outreach to bilingual students and non-traditional student teacher candidates and the importance of including family in all aspects of the process.

In fact, studies (Ceja, 2004; Gándara, 1995, 1999; Solorzano, 1986) have shown that families and communities are vital components to the educational and occupational aspirations of students. By having those who are already present in the community as educational leaders, students’ aspirations can be cultivated and realized through interaction in school settings. Increasing the number of Latino teachers will not only benefit Latino students but rather all students by bringing a diverse perspective to the classroom environment. Latino teacher recruitment efforts are effective when we collaborate and build partnerships between school districts and local colleges and universities with larger ethnic minority student populations. These partnerships can increase the number of diverse teachers by providing culturally-responsive, cooperative-learning centered, and culturally-inclusive teaching training opportunities (Bireda & Chait, 2011).

It is also important to remember that in addition to teacher recruitment, we must focus on retention. By increasing the retention of Latino teachers, we also increase the presence of Latinos in other school positions such as school counselor, administrators and other school leaders (Méndez-Morse, Murakami, Byrne-Jiménez, & Hernandez, 2015). The recruitment and retention of Latino teachers becomes the vehicle that mobilizes schools to meet the demands of its diverse student population, which then creates a welcoming and inclusive environment to learn in.

These Bright Spots clearly demonstrate that by providing Latino students with the support and wrap around services they need to be successful teachers, they are helping to ensure that our teaching workforce is as diverse as our nation’s students. A teacher candidate from the Mini-Corps Program at Fresno State said it best, “They provide the support to keep up my academics and to always strive to better myself and to hold myself to a higher standard. […] Next year, I’ll be working as a fourth grade teacher in Mendoza where I grew up.” There can be no greater measure of the positive impact these Bright Spots in Hispanic Education are making.

Fresno State MiniCorps Program


To view the full engagement video here: http://bit.ly/1X8SSiS


Honoring Rick Archuletta

Rick Archuletta

Rick Archuletta

High School Social Studies

Fountain, CO

In 2004, Rick Archuletta started his career as a secondary educator at Fountain-Ft. Carson High School in Fountain, Colorado, teaching Special Education and after four years he moved to the Social Studies department where he teaches advanced United States History, American Government, and Psychology.  Mr. Archuletta has also worked as an adjunct professor of Chicano Studies at Colorado State University-Pueblo, specifically teaching the Voices of Protest course, in which the history of people of color in the United States and the state of Colorado are highlighted along with social movements that stem from differences in race, class, and gender.  Prior to working as an educator, Mr. Archuletta graduated from Dakota Wesleyan University in Mitchell, South Dakota with degrees in both Special Education and History.  He continued his education and earned a Master of Arts degree from Colorado State University-Pueblo in United States History following the successful defense of his thesis, “Reclaiming Aztlan:  Southern Colorado and Chicano Activism of the 1970s”.  Mr. Archuletta has presented original research on both labor and community activism in Colorado during the Chicano movement at the Annual Conference of the Western History Association and at the Society for the Interdisciplinary Study of Social Imagery Conference.

Why do you teach?

To me, teaching is a way to make an impact and give back to our community.  Because I teach in a school district with a diverse student population, I believe it is important that students have diverse role models and if I can serve as an example for at least one student, then I have made a positive contribution.

What do you love about teaching?

I love the everyday interaction with students.  I love the challenge and excitement that comes with building an atmosphere in which students feel like they are an integral part of a team and that their ideas matter.  It is exciting to see students engaging with the content and each other in such a way that allows them to connect with their learning.

When you were a student, was there a great teacher who inspired you?

I had many wonderful teachers while attending school. However, I was inspired to teach after taking a mentoring class during my junior year of high school.  For this particular class, I was paired alongside a student with disabilities and I worked with them in a general education course.  I enjoyed the work so much that I signed up for the class again as a senior and afterwards, decided that I wanted to become a teacher.  While attending college at Dakota Wesleyan University, Dr. Sylvia Street and Prof. Kevin Lein had a great impact in shaping me as an educator and providing me the tools to be successful in the classroom.