Sat, Dec 24 2011 12:00 PM Posted By: Allison K. Sampité
Monica Santos has worked in the Chula Vista Elementary School District for 15 years and currently is a dual immersion kindergarten teacher at Eastlake Elementary, teaching Spanish to children.
But that’s just her full-time job.
Santos, 54, is also the founder and executive director of the Augustinian Scholarship Fund — A Su Futuro, an organization that gives disadvantaged students who live in and around Tijuana access to education and support for academic success.
Last month, Santos was recognized with an altruism award in Ensenada for her contributions to solving social problems in Baja California.
As an undergraduate at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles in 1979, Santos was involved with campus ministry and encouraged by the late priest and professor Tom Maloney to spend a summer at Hogar Infantil La Gloria, an orphanage for abandoned, neglected and abused children outside Tijuana.
She said what she found there changed the course of her life.
“Half of the students living in Mexico don’t have access to education beyond the sixth grade because their families can’t afford to pay tuition and other school-related expenses,” Santos said.
After returning to California and graduating from LMU with a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies, she began her teaching credential through the School of Education at LMU.
But fate called her back to Mexico in 1981 and she spent the next eight years developing programming and instruction, eventually becoming the orphanage’s director.
After leaving the orphanage Santos founded ASF in 1984 and now works part-time as the director.
The foundation helps send youth from the orphanage to school past the sixth grade and currently serves more than 70 students from La Gloria and five surrounding communities.
Candidates start in middle school and must have good grades and go through an application process that includes an orientation and interview. Once accepted they must continue to be responsible students, participate in monthly meetings, document their school progress and expenses and participate in volunteer service hours.
The students created the organization’s logo and the Spanish name, A Su Futuro, which means “On to Your Future.”
“My work at the orphanage was the impetus for me to start the scholarship fund when I learned about the obstacles that students face when trying to pursue their education in Mexico,” Santos said.
Santos said the major cost for the students is the transportation because most students have to get up early to take several buses to get to school.
After moving back to California, Santos and her husband settled down in Chula Vista and started their family, but she continued her work with the orphanage in various capacities and later returned to the classroom as a Spanish teacher at Discovery Charter Elementary School.
Santos holds monthly meetings for students who perform community service at a community center in El Tecolote, a village south of Tijuana, relying heavily on her five board members, about a dozen volunteers and students.
University students form the student advisory board at the center are responsible for mentoring their teammates and assisting with the administrative aspects of each meeting. Students also work and volunteer as tutors in the homework club, teach computer skills, help set up the community library and staff the center’s summer camp.
“It’s designed to help students develop their skills and talents, as well as form a sense of community with one another,” Santos said.
To date, nine students graduated from college and 12 are working toward their degree.
“What’s great is that many graduates come back as volunteers and continue to mentor other students,” Santos said.
© 2009 The Star-News