U46 students celebrate dreams, heritage at National Hispanic Heritage Month Kickoff
By Emily McFarlan Miller email@example.com September 9, 2013 6:28PM
Dr. Ivonne Diaz-Claisse, of New Jersey speaks to students at Kimball Middle School Monday morning, including 12-year-old, Francisco Lopez who was invited up to speak about his dream to become a police officer. | Brian O'Mahoney/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 11, 2013 6:14AM
ELGIN — When Ivonne Diaz-Claisse looked out at the 155 students in the English Language Learners program at Kimball Middle School sitting in the school auditorium on Monday, she said, she didn’t see middle school students.
Diaz-Claisse instead saw doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers and photographers, she said. She saw all the things those students could grow up to be.
And she saw herself at the same age, when somebody asked her the same questions she asked those students at Kimball to write the answers to on blank note cards: What do you want to be when you grow up? What do you love? What do you dream of doing?
“The only thing I knew was that I loved mathematics. I wondered what I could do with mathematics,” she said. “That’s where my journey started.”
Diaz-Claisse shared her journey pursuing that passion from her native Puerto Rico to the Ivy League, kicking off a series of student assemblies in Elgin School District U46 celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month.
Those assemblies, sponsored by the U46 ELL Department, are presented by the United States Hispanic Leadership Institute.
Fascinated with math after learning about the Fibonacci sequence at school, Diaz-Claisse pursued the subject at the Universidad de Puerto Rico, she said. She then went on to study under many of her heroes and earn her master’s and doctorate degrees at Cornell University, the University of Maryland and Arizona State University.
She had a successful career with AT&T until about six years ago, when she stepped down to establish Hispanics Inspiring Students’ Performance and Achievement, or HISPA. The New Jersey-based nonprofit recruits, supports and coordinates Latino professionals’ participation in educational programs in the communities where they live and work, according to its website.
On Monday, she also shared the stories of astronaut Joe Acaba, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Nobel Prize for Literature winner Mario Vargas Llosa, and Bryan Berg, who holds the world record for building the tallest house of cards. All dreamed big, all were brave, and all pursued excellence in those things they wanted to do, she said.
“Maybe some of you feel like that about soccer or dance. Some of you may feel like that about language arts, writing stories. ... All of those are signs of what you will be when you grow up,” she said.
Crissely Sosa Hernandez, 12, of Elgin said after the assembly, “When she told us to write our dreams, it was cool because I have a lot of dreams.”
Crissely has “crazy dreams” such as starting her own clothing line and traveling the world, she said. Already, the seventh-grader has been to Mexico and Europe. She also would like to visit China and Japan, she said.
Eighth-grader Israel Valdiva, 13, of Elgin liked the encouragement Diaz-Claisse said her mother had given her — that dreams are free. Israel dreams of becoming a firefighter and football player, he said.
Other students shared their dreams to become police officers, a baseball player, a zookeeper in the aquatic part of Brookfield Zoo, even the first woman president. One girl said during the assembly she simply wanted to make a difference.
Diaz-Claisse also will speak this week at Larsen and Ellis middle schools in Elgin and Canton Middle School in Streamwood. America’s Business Leaders founder Roy Juarez Jr. will speak at Elgin and Larkin high schools in Elgin and Streamwood High School.
Parents of U46 students also are invited to a free presentation in Spanish from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday in the auditorium at Elgin High School, 1200 Maroon Drive.