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Education a must for one working mother

Now a Hart district substitute teacher, Maria Morales taught herself English

Posted: August 6, 2009 9:47 p.m.
Updated: August 7, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Maria Morales looks through a scrapbook of clippings, her first being a letter to the editor that was published in The Signal in 1989. Morales learned English by reading The Signal.

 
Maria Morales' mother didn't want her daughter to waste time by going to school.

"She wanted me to stay home and clean all day long," Morales said.

Morales didn't listen to her mother. Instead, she went to school to do what she loves best - read.

But when Morales moved from Mexico to Canyon Country in 1979 and left her immediate family, she found herself incapable of continuing on with her passion.

"I couldn't read because I didn't know English," she said.

Suddenly, the woman who aspired to be a lawyer in her native country found herself unable to read a newspaper in America.

"I opened the door of my apartment one day, and I saw a newspaper," she said. "I picked up the newspaper and got a dictionary."

For three years, Morales spent several hours a day with either a book or The Signal newspaper in one hand, a Spanish-English dictionary in the other.

She also began taking English classes at Placerita Junior High School.

But with five growing children, Morales had to balance parenting, working and learning.

"I used to take them to the park. They would play; I was reading," she said. "We went to the library, park or pool - and I was reading."

When she wasn't parenting or reading, Morales was working part- or full-time as a farmhand in onion fields, a house cleaner, a teacher's assistant, preschool teacher or nanny.

For Morales, not pursuing an education in America was just not an option.

"My philosophy is that being poor is not a shame," she said, "but being poor all your life because you don't give yourself an education - that is a true shame."

May 13, 1989, was a significant day for Morales. That was the day The Signal published Morales' first letter to the editor.

"I started sending letters to the editor, and after my first one I got hooked," she said.

Morales still has a copy of that letter in a binder, along with scraps of letters, poems and other writings of hers.

Morales said she is motivated to speak out on issues of the community - especially those issues regarding education.

"In my experience, you have to have a voice," she said. "Without an education, how do you let that voice come out?"

In 2000, Morales became a U.S. citizen, and in 2005, she graduated from College of the Canyons with as associate of arts degree.

The day Morales donned her cap and gown and received her COC diploma was the day she completed "My Graduation" - a book she began on her first day of school detailing her struggles to get an education while raising a family, working and being emotionally tied to two countries.

She self-published her book through iUniverse Inc. in 2005.

And last June, Morales, now 53, graduated from California State University Bakersfield with a bachelor of arts in liberal studies.

She has been working as a substitute teacher for the Palmdale School District, and she will begin as a substitute Spanish teacher for the William S. Hart Union High School District in the fall.

But Morales still isn't done reading - and studying. She is pursuing a teaching credential and a master's degree in education at Mount St. Mary's College.

Morales' drive to be educated has carried over to her children.

"After high school, Kelly said she wasn't going to school (anymore)," Morales said. "For Mother's Day and Christmas, I told her I don't want a present, I want you to go back to school."

"She did, three years later," Morales said. "She's going to be a child psychologist."

Morales' youngest son, Henry - who graduated from high school in just two years - said he is proud of his mother.

"Through the headaches and our tantrums, she still did it."

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