(CEDAR HILL, TX) Maritza Miranda greets her Highlands Elementary scholars each morning and sees a young version of herself in their smiles and eagerness to learn.
Miranda, a 2015 Cedar Hill Collegiate High School Graduate and the daughter of immigrants from Mexico, learned Spanish from a young age. Her parents wanted to enroll her at Highlands Elementary School, which has Cedar Hill ISD’s elementary bilingual program.
Miranda said she didn’t qualify for the program, and instead enrolled at Waterford Oaks Elementary, located 1.4 miles from Highlands.
At Waterford Oaks, she worked one-on-one with an English Second Language (ESL) tutor, which she said helped a great deal.
At age 23, Miranda enters her third year of teaching bilingual education at Highlands. She taught fourth grade the past two years and will teach first grade, starting in August.
“It’s pretty special,” Miranda said. “I always tell my students, ‘yes, it might be hard learning a second language, but I was like you guys’. And the scholars say, ‘if she was able to do it, we can, too’. When I told them I graduated from Collegiate, they are like ‘oh my goodness, that is so cool and we want to go to Collegiate’. A lot of my scholars applied to the Collegiate Pathway and a lot of them were accepted.”
Collegiate High School opened in 2008, and it created opportunities for CHISD scholars who wanted to earn college credit – free of charge – while in high school. Collegiate Scholars spend their final two years at Cedar Valley College (CVC), and when they earn a high school diploma, they also earn an Associate’s Degree from CVC.
They earn enough college credits in high school to begin college as sophomores, or sometimes, juniors.
Miranda, who lives in Cedar Hill, began classes at the University of North Texas (UNT) as a sophomore in 2015 and earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education degree in May 2018. She began teaching at Highlands in August 2018.
Miranda, who aspired to become a teacher from a young age, plans on starting a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education from UNT, in the near future.
“It’s such an honor to go back and service the District who helped me become who I am,” Miranda said. “I had some amazing educators. Hopefully, I can do the same thing for my scholars. I have loved working with my team of educators at Highlands.”
In addition to motivating scholars to attend Collegiate, Miranda – a first generation college graduate – encouraged her younger siblings, Janet, Gerardo Jr. and Angel, and her younger cousins, Andrea and Andres Escarzata, to attend Collegiate.
Janet graduated from Collegiate in 2017 and now works in the Culinary industry in Dallas, while Gerardo and Angel are entering their senior year at the campus.
“She gave us the blueprint to succeed,” said Gerardo, who is considering attending UNT. “She told us that everything’s possible – you just have to put your mind to it and do your work.”
Said Angel, “My parents saw how much she succeeded in school and how ready she was for college. We wanted to go through the same program to better our education and our life.”
While at Collegiate, Miranda was a member of the National Honor Society and ran the Yearbook Club.
“Graduating from Collegiate was difficult but very rewarding,” Miranda said. “My classmates and my teachers felt like family. I created a lot of long-time friendships. Even after high school, I know I can always count on them.”
Former Collegiate Biology Teacher Barbara Boakye remembers how well Miranda adapted to a course that was essentially “college level freshman biology” during her high school freshman year of 2011-12.
There was a quiz where Miranda didn’t live up to her own expectations. Instead of dwelling on it, she showed up to Boakye’s tutorial the very next day.
“She didn’t wait for me to ask to help her,” said Boakye, who taught in CHISD for 12 years. “She loved to learn, and she loved to get the help. When you have people like that, they love learning and they love other people.”
Before long, Miranda would begin instructing her classmates, before Boakye’s lessons.
“She went over what we were about to go through in the class,” Boakye said. “I would love for her to teach my own children.”
FIRST GRADE AT WATERFORD OAKS
Waterford Oaks retired first grade teacher Nora Stonecipher was overcome with emotion when she learned that Miranda will be teaching first grade this fall.
“That warms my heart,” Stonecipher said. “She’ll make an excellent first grade teacher. I’m so excited for her.”
Miranda was a scholar in Stonecipher’s first grade class in 2003-04. She was greatly impacted by Stonecipher, whom she still communicates with today.
“When I was little, I was always timid,” Miranda said. “She helped me because the person that I am now. She always encouraged me, and she always told my parents that I would do something big in life.”
Stonecipher, who retired from CHISD in 2011, has many memories of her classes over the years, but Miranda’s success stands out among them.
“She was a great scholar – always eager to learn,” Stonecipher said. “She was always very happy and always smiling.”
Stonecipher went on to teach Miranda’s younger siblings and was always glad when Miranda returned to visit the classroom.
After Waterford Oaks, Miranda attended Beltline Intermediate, Bessie Coleman Middle and Collegiate, but she never forgot Stonecipher. And the sentiment was mutual.
“She was always very determined to do what she needed to do. She never gave up and always loved a challenge – overcoming every challenge she faced,” Stonecipher said. “It was really awesome watching her grow and finally seeing her dream of becoming a teacher come true.”