La Verne Magazine
"Education in La Verne"
Crossing the Boundaries of BUSD
by Araceli Esparza
photography by Scott Harvey
A humble smile across her delicately wrinkled face is not enough to express
how much Dr. Dolores Gonzales loves teaching. After more than 30 years in
the field, Dr. Gonzales is still very active in education and in the community,
and admits that her greatest strength is encouraging parents to be involved
in their children's lives.
During a time in which racial barriers separated society, when drinking
fountains and park benches read, "For Whites Only" and when getting
a higher education was a struggle for any minority student, the life-long
dream of Dolores Gonzales, Ed.D, was born.
For Dr. Gonzales, educator and leader in the La Verne community for
more than four decades, the vision began early. Born in the Northern California
city of Lindsey in 1932 as Dolores Garcia, Dr. Gonzales moved to La Verne
with her family at the age of 4. The Garcias lived on First Street, four
doors away from then La Verne College.
Second Street, First Street, Walnut Avenue and the area surrounding
Arrow Highway "were solid Mexicans," recalls Dr. Gonzales, now
66. "The barrio was full, and the barrio was always Mexican."
Then, school segregation was common law in the Bonita School District;
to challenge that mandate was unthinkable. Students from Spanish-speaking
families attended Palomares School; Anglo children attended Lincoln Elementary
School (now Roynon) -- no arguments to the contrary accepted. Because Dr.
Gonzales was from a Spanish-speaking family, she was destined to attend
Palomares for her primary education.
But the elder Garcia refused to allow her children to live according
to a fate determined simply by their native tongue. "My mother was
very pleased with the English that my brother had learned in Lindsey,"
says Dr. Gonzales.
"I guess he went here [Palomares] all first grade," she adds,
"and he lost many of the English skills that he had come with because
the children spoke a lot of Spanish."
Dr. Gonzales says this experience convinced her mother that she and
her brother would not excel in their communication skills if they stayed
at Palomares. Señora Garcia insisted that her children be admitted
to Lincoln. When Dr. Gonzales started kindergarten, special permission for
her and her brother to attend Lincoln was granted. The rare opportunity
gave Dr. Gonzales the chance to excel as a minority and opened the door
to her future.
She fondly recalls her second grade teacher, "Mrs. Rhea Patterson,"
Dr. Gonzales recalls. "Oh my goodness, what a lovely teacher, and how
she loved me at Lincoln School."
Dr. Gonzales, then only 7, decided then that she wanted to be just like
Mrs. Patterson, "a teacher who loved teaching and who loved children
-- because she loved us so much -- and who praised children. I could see
her, and I could see myself."
Upon completing her education at Lincoln, Dr. Gonzales enrolled in 1946
as a freshman at Bonita High School. BHS then stood where Damien High School
now exists; all high school students from the San Dimas, La Verne and La
Verne Heights areas were at last bound under the same school without segregation.
But the effects of segregated education had taken its toll on many incoming
students. The results were clear.
"As I remember, the dropout rate at that time was considerably
more because the [Mexican] students weren't used to going to school with
Anglos," recalls Dr. Gonzales. She succeeded, she says, because of
her advantage as a fluent Spanish-English speaking student and because she
opted to become involved in extracurricular activities.
The many achievements on her BHS resumé included Spanish Club
president, band majorette, cheer squad member and student government representative.
She was supported greatly by her mother; her father, however, did not feel
"I think my dad never had an appreciation for school, and I think
part of that had to do with the fact that he only finished up to the third
grade," she admits. "He couldn't understand why I always needed
to be at school until a certain time."
Graduating from Bonita in 1950, Dr. Gonzales pursued her childhood goal
of teaching and enrolled at Whittier College. After one semester at Whittier,
she transferred to Mt. San Antonio College, where she met her husband Ruben.
The couple wed during their last year at Mt. SAC. Between graduating
in spring 1952 and beginning at La Verne College in the fall, first daughter
Kathleen was born. Aside from her commitments to child care and family,
the Gonzaleses graduated from LVC in 1954. They also had their first son,
Phillip, that year.
"La Verne College was very warm and very accepting during the two
years I was there,"says Dr. Gonzales. "It was small, and it was
It was this type of support that reassured Dr. Gonzales, with a bachelor's
degree in elementary education in hand, that she was ready to be a teacher
like Mrs. Patterson. Thus, she began her life as Mrs. Gonzales to the first
graders of Roynon. One of the first Hispanic instructors in the district,
Dr. Gonzales remained at Roynon for about seven years.
Karen Huigens, one of the first graders in that classroom, remembers
the instructor. "She was a wonderful teacher," recounts Huigens,
who is now also a kindergarten teacher at Roynon. "She was always telling
us how great we were, and she made us feel like we were the greatest kids
in the world."
Dr. Gonzales eventually took this energy to San Dimas, where she taught
first, second and third grades at Eckstrand Elementary School within an
During her career at Roynon and Eckstrand, Dr. Gonzales gave birth to
two more children. Laura, her second daughter, was born in 1962, and Mauricio
was born in 1964. She devoted much time to the educational success of her
own children, mirroring her mother's efforts.
Following her career at Eckstrand, Dr. Gonzales transferred to Grace
Miller Elementary School to teach kindergartners, first, second and third
graders. She remained at Grace Miller for nearly 17 years until her husband
was offered a job opportunity in Imperial County, near the California-Mexico
Ruben, who also attained a bachelor's degree in education, was offered
a position as superintendent of the Imperial County School District. The
move meant that Dr. Gonzales, who at the time was just short of completing
30 years in education, would not finish her career in BUSD. "I have
always been taught that wherever your husband goes, you go," states
Dr. Gonzales. "And so I went." Though she and Ruben were many
miles away, the couple returned to their La Verne home nearly every weekend.
Dr. Gonzales continued teaching, this time as a reading/ resource teacher
for El Centro city schools. She completed her teaching career during the
couple's six-year stay in that area.
Since then, Dr. Gonzales has achieved far more than originally anticipated.
She earned a master's degree in education from California State University,
Los Angeles, in 1969, and recalls the date as one of the most touching memories
in her career.
"My father had never gone to any of my graduations-eighth grade,
high school, community college and college-and this time he was there.
"My mother said for the first time in my life, she saw my dad be
so proud of me," she says. "And he was bragging to this man because
I was in the select group to get my degree."
The moment was a blessing, but Dr. Gonzales did not stop there. Her
professors told her in a meeting that she was "Ph.D. material,"
Therefore, after years of contemplation on their advice, she applied
to the doctoral program at the Claremont Colleges, where she earned a doctoral
degree in language arts development in 1987.
"After the graduation, my mother came up to me and said, 'Thank
God that there are no more degrees'," she laughs.
Now retired as a teacher, it is obvious that Dr. Gonzales' calling has
yet to be ignored. The Gonzaleses have never left their roots -- the city
of La Verne -- and still reside in the house they purchased at the start
of their marriage.
Dr. Gonzales has become more than just a successful teacher, mother
and role model. For example, while teaching at Roynon in 1979, she authored
"Creative Writing: An Author Center for Children" to give teachers
strategies toward encouraging future writers. She is also included in the
city's 1989 history book, "La Verne, The Story of the People Who Made
In 1997, she was awarded the Delta Kappa Gamma, Beta Mu Chapter (Women
Educator's Society International) "Women in History" award for
her commitment to service, education and leadership. She has served as a
guest speaker at several school campuses, and has received accolades about
her impact on student audiences. Currently, Dr. Gonzales mentors students
at Lone Hill and Ramona Middle Schools.
She is also active in the Education Department at her college alma mater,
now the University of La Verne. Dr. Peggy Redman, director of teacher education,
has put Dr. Gonzales in the field as a supervisor of student-teachers. She
also regularly serves as a liaison between student-teachers and culturally
Reflecting on her greatest memories, Dr. Gonzales says that seeing former
student Huigens as a teacher and then teaching together with her in 1989
was remarkable. "I taught her in first grade, and to have her be a
staff member for the district I was working in was just a wonderful dream."
She confesses that her greatest push is "to continue to give back
to the community and share in education with students.
"I think the key is working with parents and encouraging parents
to be a part of education," she says.
As for her ability to break away from societal barriers, Dr. Gonzales
explains it as only a gift. She has stayed in education because she can
"do that stuff, and it works."
But the success also requires character and strength. As Huigens admits,
"She is one my favorite people, more than just a favorite teacher.
I appreciate her leadership, and I know she didn't have every advantage
that I had.
"But you sure would never know it."
Tips From a Veteran
1. Love children.
2. Love to teach.
3. Be prepared and motivated to work hard.
4. Be creative.
5. Be curious.
6. Enjoy working with parents.
7. Enjoy community involvement.
8. Continue to be inspired to learn new things.
9. Make your life as a teacher be a joy.
10. Share your knowledge.
-- Dr. Dolores Gonzales
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