When Vanessa Macias was a child, she never thought she would be able to go to college, let alone live out her dream of being a teacher. But now at 29, the Empire Elementary teacher is inspiring her students and showing them anyone can go to college and do anything they set their minds to.
Macias was recently awarded the Rotary Club’s Teacher of the Month for her work as a second grade teacher at Empire Elementary, where she worked for three years.
But Macias’s journey to becoming an educator wasn’t always an easy one.
Macias and her brothers are first generation Americans and Macias is the first one in her family to go to college.
The Los Angeles native had moved to Mexico with her family during her formative years before moving back to L.A. in the first grade, then to Carson City several years after that.
“English is actually my second language, I started school in Mexico ... so I am actually a non-English speaker,” Macias said. “I never thought I would go to college, I didn’t have a career I wanted to do because I wasn’t exposed to that college life. I didn’t know I could go because that wasn’t part of my norm.”
Macias said her parents had worked all their lives to provide for their children, so while they were supportive of Macias, they just didn’t know how to help.
“They were wonderful parents as far as taking care of us, but they didn’t know what to do to help me get into college,” Macias said. “For them, their American dream was to be employed with a home and being able to provide for their children so that we can now take advantage and live our American dream.
“They helped in the best way they could.”
Growing up, one of her role models was her fifth grade teacher who made learning fun and exciting.
“I had thought how fun would it be to be a teacher,” Macias said.
After high school, Macias said she decided to take one college course at Western Nevada College and see how it went. And after one class came two classes, then three classes and soon she had her associate of arts degree. At the time she was also working with the district as a tutor for elementary students.
“To be honest, I still didn’t think I could get a degree, but I just kept working toward it and working hard and persevered,” Macias said. “It became my passion.”
“I have always wanted to work with the community and work with people and kids.”
In 2012, Macias even won Miss Carson City and ran on the platform for education as the key to success, where she used her title to go to different schools in Carson to talk about her background and inspire others to continue and work hard for their education.
“I wanted to help spread the word and talk to kids to tell them that anyone can go to college and live out their dream,” Macias said. “I get to live my platform.”
Macias said she would share with the students about how she was able to find resources, overcome her language barrier and get a degree.
“Now we know that you don’t have to be rich to get a degree,” Macias said.
For Macias’s second graders, her story helps give them hope.
“It is important to talk to kids here because with ESL it is a struggle growing up with that language barrier and it is exciting for them to realize that even I struggled with it,” Macias said.
Being a teacher is a dream come true for her.
“It feels like being a teacher feels unrealistic (that I actually did it),” Macias said. “It is so exciting, it feels great, like I can live up to my dream and learn and live happy and proud. This is my passion, this is why my parents brought us to the United States and this truly makes me happy.
“I am happy to fulfill my dream and my parents’ dream to bring us here and be successful.”
And she isn’t finished. Macias is starting the path to earning her master’s, possibly in equality and diversity in education at the University of Nevada, Reno.
“I thought it fit with me since I plan to continue to work at Empire where there is lots of diversity,” Macias said
But for now, Macias is enjoying appreciating her diversity and sharing it with her students.
“It is exciting because I feel like I live in two different worlds,” Macias said “I have my Mexican background with my family and customs but then I have my American customs too ... I love being American but it is nice to have that diversity.”
And she loves her school, her students and her team at school.
“I love the diversity in my class and the different cultures and people so this is a good fit for me,” Macias said. “I love the second grade team and the environment at Empire.”