For alumna Zoila Gallegos, teaching children struggling with reading and writing is her ministry.
Gallegos, assistant principal at Brookhurst Junior High School in Anaheim, spent more than two decades as an educator in Los Angeles County schools. She also served as a literacy specialist for five years at Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall in Downey, where she successfully advocated for a library, which now has over 4,000 books, for the youth at the facility.
Gallegos is a recipient of a 2020 Distinguished Alumni of the Year Award from Cal State Fullerton’s College of Education. She and other award recipients were recognized at the college’s March 7 Honor an Educator Luncheon and Ceremony, which supports scholarships for future teachers. She earned a master’s degree in education-reading and completed the credential program to teach reading at CSUF. (For the list of other honorees, see related story here.)
Why move from the classroom to administration?
What I enjoy most is building relationships and connecting with students and their families. At the end of the day, being an administrator gives me the chance to help more individuals and make a bigger impact — and I’m able to share my experience and advocate for others.
How did you get involved in teaching high-risk youth?
I choose to teach adjudicated and high-risk youth because I see myself in these students. Growing up, my third grade teacher inspired me and encouraged me to go to college. She believed in me. I wanted to create that same experience for students.
What challenges did you face as a student?
I faced many challenges, including being an English learner and a struggling reader. I hated to read because reading was difficult for me, however, I never allowed myself to give up. Failure was not an option. Growing up in the inner city is tough, challenges must be faced. I share my experiences with my students and I hope to serve as a role model.
How did CSUF prepare you to be an educational leader?
CSUF offered a rigorous program. Although I completed a reading certificate program at another university, I didn’t feel prepared to call myself a reading and literacy specialist. CSUF not only prepared me well, it gave me confidence. My professors were supportive and encouraging and took an interest in me. I am most grateful.
Do you have any advice for future teachers?
Teaching is tough, but also rewarding and challenging. Don’t underestimate the impact you make in a student’s life because you might not know how you touched a child’s life until years later. And don’t give up! Allow yourself to make mistakes, but most importantly, strive to be a better teacher every day.