Activist inspires many to teach

Activist inspires many to teach

By BILL SHRALOW, Courier-Post Staff

GLASSBORO--Yvonne Rodriguez has been leaving her imprint on education in South Jersey and the state as a whole for nearly three decades.

"I've taught 200 people a year for 29 years," says Rodriguez, a Glassboro State College and Rowan
University education professor since 1973. "Go into any school in South Jersey and I've taught a significant portion of their staff."

She helped pioneer New Jersey's programs for English as a second language, and for the state's certification process for that teaching specialty. During that time, Rodriguez has come to appreciate the critical role teachers play - themselves and through the people they teach.

"Teachers have a lot of power," Rodriguez said. "It's a ripple effect. You don't know when it stops."

One school where Rodriguez's influence is clearly felt is Lanning Square School in Camden, where Elsa Suarez is principal.

Rodriguez not only encouraged Suarez to attend then- Glassboro State for her master's degree in education, she also created the grant program that helped Suarez make it through financially. Suarez later went on to earn her doctorate from Temple University in Philadelphia, as had Rodriguez before her.

Rodriguez got her bachelor's degree from Rutgers-Camden, and became politically active in the city starting in the 1970s, though she never lived there. Camden is where her longtime activism started, and she continues to take a special interest in the city.

"Many of the bilingual teachers, especially ones who started in Camden, became professionals because of her encouragement," Suarez said of Rodriguez. "She was not simply a professor, she was a mentor, an inspiration.

"She dedicated herself to improving education and the quality of life of the Latino population and encouraged them to become professionals. She has given herself to the community."

"Being politically involved in Camden, I came across people I thought would be fabulous teachers," Rodriguez said. "And I'd recruit them."

In 2000, the Hispanic Caucus of the American Association for Higher Education (AAHE) presented Rodriguez its award for Outstanding Latino/a Faculty in Higher Education.

The award is presented annually to a faculty member who has demonstrated outstanding accomplishment in his or her discipline as well as support of Hispanic issues. Rodriguez received the award at the AAHE national conference in Anaheim, Calif., that year.

Her list of accomplishments is pages-long. She was founding educational coordinator for Mi Casita day care center in Camden, the first bilingual day care center in New Jersey. She has been a professor in New Jersey, New York and Puerto Rico. She has served as an educational consultant for the U.S. Department of Energy, NASA, the Ford Foundation, Americore, the state chancellor of higher education and several education commissioners, the Educational Testing Service, numerous school districts and colleges and other organizations.

In recent years, Rodriguez has concentrated on scholarly writing. She is co-author of The History and Contributions of Puerto Ricans in the Diaspora and has written nearly 30 journal articles, book chapters, monographs and technical reports.

Still, she believes there is a long way to go before she can rest.

"The Hispanic community, particularly Puerto Ricans, have been historically held at bay and are usually the last ones to be advocated for," she said. "In some ways we've made a lot of progress, but in others, we have not.

"It's been a struggle of community activism to get anything done."

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Date Published: Tuesday, May 7, 2002 - 12:30
Source URL: Courier-Post