Our New Blue Jays: Having the Opportunity to Choose Education
VirginiaLiz Cartagena to Study in Manor Early Childhood Education program starting this fall semester.
When she was five years old, VirginiaLiz Cartagena moved with her family from the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia to Lancaster. The mother from Cartagena moved the family to avoid violence, but despite her best efforts, her children still encountered problems.
“My mom didn’t want me growing up in this area of Philadelphia for a reason, but Lancaster is a place where you too can cross the street and get in trouble,” Cartagena said. “I definitely encountered some issues and behavioral issues.”
Cartagena fought, had outbursts and often left the class. Since her mother did not speak English, Cartagena often tore up and threw away her ballots. Then she met a teacher at her college who changed her future.
“We just had a connection and started talking,” Cartagena said. “She told me about Milton Hershey School and I applied to be a student there.”
The Milton Hershey School is a free school in Hershey where students have access to tuition, housing, meals, school supplies, counseling services, and medical care. The school accepted Cartagena’s application a year after they applied.
“It was a miracle,” Cartagena said. “I knew I had to change. It was good to know that I had been given an opportunity and a second chance.
While at Milton Hershey, Cartagena interned at the organization’s elementary school. She worked as an assistant teacher with second-grade students.
“I thought I was going to observe more, but I was thrown into the fire,” Cartagena said. “The teacher empowered me and said, ‘You are a teacher now.’ We reviewed the lesson plans and I learned how the class worked.
The experience gave her the chance to help “Kids of Milton Hershey” like herself. The rewards came from seeing the students grow up before his own eyes.
“We would watch a flower grow or show how worms move and a student would come running up and say, ‘Miss Virginia, look at that dirt! or ‘Miss Virginia, I don’t want to touch a worm!’ “, did she say. “It’s just fun, exciting and I learned to love the connection I developed with my students.”
When it came time to start looking at colleges, Cartagena knew she wanted to continue pursuing a career in teaching. A Milton Hershey adviser introduced her to Manor College.
“I knew I didn’t want to go to a big school and thought I might find a connection at Manor,” Cartagena said. “From the first time I visited Manor College it was always welcoming and genuine. It was the right place for me.
Last summer, she enrolled at the school and is looking forward to starting classes next week. She’s already thrown herself into campus life, as a work-study student with Manor College’s student affairs team and working at Manor College Bird Feed.
With her degree, she hopes to combine her love of teaching with her passion for art. As she looks to the future, she hopes to instill in others the same gift she once received: opportunity.
“Not everyone has the opportunity to change and also to choose education,” Cartagena said. “You never know when you’ll run into someone who needs help. I’m just incredibly lucky someone did this for me.
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