Carolina was a friend of my daughter’s throughout their Fort Bragg school years. From the time she was a child, she showed exceptional talent in the areas of drawing and painting. I would have never imagined she’d grow up to teach mathematics at the middle school and college levels. Not because she wasn’t smart and talented. She was so stoic. She seemed too shy to be able to lead a classroom of students.
Her passion for mathematics began in fifth grade. “Sally Miller—a resource teacher at Dana Gray—gave us a problem about order of operations. The other kids struggled, but I finished really fast. She asked me to go to the board and show the class how I solved it.” She smiled. “It made me feel good.”
A few years before, she’d struggled with multiplication tables. She wanted to improve and asked her mother to put her through multiplication drills every night. She eventually grew proficient and faster at solving a sheet full of problems.
Carolina grew up fifth in a family of ten children. She has great respect for her parents and their ability to provide for and raise such a large family. Her father has worked in the logging industry for decades and at the age of 65 is a timber faller. Her mother has been a housekeeper at Stanford Inn since 1997. Her father came to this country when he was 15 years old and worked to send money to help is widowed mother and his siblings in Mexico. He eventually made his way to Fort Bragg and in 1979 brought his young bride.
In 1990, when Carolina was a baby, her parents bought a house. As an adult, Carolina realizes how hard life must have been for them and remembers their frugality. “When we went school clothes shopping, we were each allowed two shirts, two pairs of pants, a sweater, socks and underwear. We also got one pair of shoes that had to last us the entire school year.” These shopping sessions in Ukiah lasted an entire day. “At lunchtime, my dad went to Albertson’s and bought a roasted chicken, bread, peppers, mayonnaise and made sandwiches. We rarely ate fast food or went out to restaurants.”
By 2006, the start of her senior year in high school, she hadn’t formulated a plan for what to do after graduation. Her participation in the AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program changed all that. “One of the requirements was to apply to colleges. My older brother lived in Sacramento, so I chose Sacramento State. I decided to major in nursing because the nurses on television programs seemed so fancy.” She laughed.
“Two years into the program, I decided it didn’t offer enough math, which was my strongest subject. I changed my major to mathematics with a teaching concentration. I found it challenging, but also inspiring.” She also minored in Art Education and Chicano Studies.
Carolina wasn’t the first of 50 first cousins to attend college, but she was the first to graduate. Since then, eight others have obtained degrees. Two of her brothers are currently working and going to college, one scheduled to graduate next spring with a degree in mechanical engineering. Her other siblings are gainfully employed; her youngest sister is a senior year in high school.
Carolina was able to finance her education through a combination of financial aid, help from her parents, and working. During her first two years, she returned to Fort Bragg in the summers to work at The Coast Cinemas and as a housekeeper for Stanford Inn. The following summer, she worked at the drive-in theater in Sacramento. “Since the movies didn’t start until after dark, I sometimes worked until four in the morning.” She was also the student assistant in the learning skills lab at the college.
She graduated in 2013 and moved to San Antonio where she attended the University of Texas to obtain a Master’s Degree and teaching credential in Mathematics Education. Her first year, she also taught four undergraduate mathematics classes each semester. Her second year was spent taking classes and meeting her credential requirements by teaching at an all-girls Catholic school.
This once shy girl grew into a woman who thoroughly enjoys teaching. “It can be very creative.” During her Master’s program, she became an expert in Geogebra, a technology-based program. “It allows teachers to create their own math program for students.”
By June 2017, Carolina moved back to Fort Bragg to be closer to family. “For a long time, my mind had been working from the time I got up until I went to sleep. I wanted to do something simple.
“I saw a posting for a math teacher position at Fort Bragg Middle School. The teacher was taking a one-year sabbatical. That one year turned into two.
“I was happy to be teaching math, but I prefer teaching at the college level. Math is easy. Teaching is hard. Math is a subject many kids think they’re bad at. I try to show how it helps make them logical thinkers.” She offered after-school tutoring sessions two days a week. By the spring of 2018, she also took a job as the tutor in the math lab at the Mendocino College Coast Center two afternoons a week.
This spring, overwhelmed by her schedule, she resigned from the middle school, but offered to teach part-time. Superintendent of schools Becky Walker (Carolina’s former middle school math teacher) offered her two periods at the high school next year. Carolina will also teach part-time at Mendocino College and continue with the math labs. This summer, she’s teaching a beginning algebra class at the college which serves mainly high school Upward Bound students.
Carolina is happy about her return to Fort Bragg. “I like running into people I know. Being surrounded my nature, fresh air and family helps me feel calm.” Her eventual goal is to have a fulltime teaching position at the college level with a focus on training teachers. Meanwhile, she continues to develop her artistic skills. “I like to draw faces I make up in my head.” Most of her drawing is produced on her iPad because it allows her to experiment without wasting paper. She’s done a few commissioned pieces, but generally uses art as a stress reducer.
She encourages young people who grew up here to venture out and explore other places. “It’s scary, but if you’re afraid to take risks, you’re never going to get anywhere. Whatever happens, happens—you just have to go with it. After I left, I got onto a path that just flowed.” Our community is grateful that her path eventually led her back home.