STERLING, Va. — The first day of school is full of wonderment (at least until the exams and homework start to pile up). That precocious opening day is peppered with the smell of new backpacks, the feel of no.2 pencils, and the excitement of bright opportunities.
But alongside the new students are new teachers, as well. And for one teacher, her new role in the classroom is the perfect homecoming.
“Growing up in Sterling when I was a kid is very different than what it is now,” second-grade teacher Andrea Rodriguez said. “It’s a large, diverse community, and going to Richmond [for college] afterward was a complete culture shock in not knowing a sense of belonging… so I always wanted to come back.”
Rodriguez is a first-generation college graduate and the first in her family to graduate with a master's degree. Her parents immigrated from Costa Rica. She grew up in Northern Virginia, going to school at Rolling Ridge Elementary, and eventually graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University. Now, she’s starting her teaching career at the same school where it all started for her.
“At first, I wanted to be away from everyone,” Rodriguez said. “I didn’t want to come back to Sterling because this was my own self, but then I realized I couldn’t be myself if I wasn’t in the place I called home.”
Ms. Rodriguez is also bi-lingual, carrying a dual identity that she hopes will bring down any cultural walls in the community.
“I also want to teach them how much sacrifice and support they have here, in a place where they might not they have as many resources as other kids in this county,” she said. “I want to be able to give them that support I had as a kid too.”
Through it all, the message of family has never faded away. It’s the engine that keeps her going and fuels the positivity you see in the classroom. There’s also one especially powerful message that she carries on…
“If there was a message – it would be “ponte las pilas” – I heard that from my dad all the time,” she said.
“Be on your very best, always be on guard, and do the best I could do.”