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Expecting More Out of School

A challenging classroom leads to a career in political advocacy

Published on LatinoLA: December 28, 2001


Expecting More Out of School


At Belmont High School in Los Angeles, Linda Purdy expected more of her students than they expected of themselves.

This demanding but engaging eleventh grade government and U.S. history teacher was among the first to challenge Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO).

Purdy, who taught the advanced placement college preparatory courses, tried to emulate a college atmosphere by adopting a lecture style setting.

"When someone truly commits to being a teacher, that's when they make a difference," said Vargas. "Ms. Purdy intentionally wanted to mold students to become college material," he recalls.

That involved not only achieving academic success, but also getting her students involved in extracurricular activities, a significant factor in the college application process.

Participation outside the classroom led Vargas to his first real taste of politics.

During his junior year, Vargas was chosen to participate in Junior State, a program conducted with the California State University, Sacramento that allows high school students the unique opportunity to participate in a mock state government.

With Ms. Purdy's encouragement, Vargas applied to the top universities in the country, including Harvard, Stanford and Berkeley. At first, the idea of the big far off schools scared him. His first choice was a local school, Pomona College, but Vargas eventually decided on Stanford.

From this university, Vargas received a bachelor's degree in history and Spanish and a master's degree in education.

Out of college, Vargas wanted to return to Los Angeles, to his old high school. Because he firmly believes everyone must be able to use the English language effectively and speak a second language, his dream was to teach social science in Spanish.

However, in 1985, Vargas' life took a political shift and he headed out to Washington D.C. as an education policy fellow for the National Council of La Raza.

Despite his current position with NALEO, Vargas has not ruled out a teaching career.

"Just because I'm not a teacher now, doesn't mean I won't be in the future," Vargas asserts.

Over the next decade the state will need to find 300,000 people to take on the challenging but rewarding job of teaching California's children.

As an extension of ongoing recruitment efforts led by CalTeach (the California Center for Teaching Careers), the Hispanic Heritage Month campaign "Inspire a Future Leader. Teach," is a statewide public education campaign to attract individuals to the teaching profession -- especially Latinos.

CalTeach is a one-stop information, referral and recruitment center for individuals interested in a teaching career. Administered by the California State University, Office of the Chancellor, CalTeach offers a variety of informational and advisor-assisted services. Established in 1997 by the California Legislature, the goal of CalTeach is to recruit qualified individuals to the teaching profession and alleviate the shortage of credentialed teachers in the state.

For more information on how to become a teacher, please call CalTeach at 1-888-CALTEACH or visit http://www.calteach.com.






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