by Mary Rupert
An announcement last week came over the public address system at Piper Middle School congratulating Dr. Sarah Mendez-Guerrero on receiving her doctorate degree.
The assistant principal and athletic director at the school, Guerrero’s degree in educational leadership from Baker University represents a milestone for her personally, as well as for her family.
Guerrero, who is originally from Corpus Christi, Texas, is the first person in her family to receive a college degree. Her bachelor’s degree was from Texas A&M, and her master’s was from Baker.
“I grew up in a home with loving parents who valued education, but unfortunately did not have an education,” Guerrero said. Her mother had a sixth-grade education and her father graduated from high school.
It was always her personal goal to graduate from college, she said. A second reason was that the college degrees help in her professional growth, she added. As an educator, it is important to continue her education, as well, she said.
Guerrero believes that her achievements can help guide others who have Hispanic backgrounds in knowing that they, too, can achieve academically.
“Not only for kids to see it, but to reach out to the Hispanic community, as well,” Guerrero said. “There is no excuse, you can do anything when you set your mind to it.”
What made it difficult for her was that, although she grew up in a home where education was highly valued, her family didn’t know the route toward education. They didn’t know what steps should be taken, how to pay for a college education, and other details, she said.
“Trying to figure out things on my own was very difficult for me,” she said. “I relied on a couple of my teachers to help me out.”
She asked many questions; at registration, she asked many persons if they could tell her where to go and how to complete the steps that needed to be taken. She made her way by advocating for herself and asking plenty of questions.
Another challenge was that she married young and was a married student at college, with other responsibilities besides academics.
Guerrero said she never felt left out in college. Her dad always told her never to allow herself to feel left out because of her race, gender or where she came from. “Know where you come from, remember your values, and you can excel at anything,” he told her.
Guerrero is married and has two sons, a 24-year-old and a 17-year-old. She said she is “very blessed” to have a spouse who supported her and put her education before his, to complete a promise she had made to herself and her father that she would finish school despite being married at a young age.
Last week, she said it was exciting to see the staff and students enthusiastic about her achievement.
Guerrero said one day she would like to have her own building, preferably at the middle school level. In future years she may want to go to the district administration level, but now, she prefers to remain at the middle school building level.
When she did an internship at the district office, she felt there was something missing, she said. It wasn’t until she went back to the middle school building that she realized it was the kids. She said she enjoys being able to help kids grow, academically and behaviorally, as young individuals.
“It’s the kids that make me feel like I’m doing something,” she said.