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Principal of ‘special school’ wins top award

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CHULA VISTA — All the sacrifices her parents made for their daughter have paid off.That’s what Leticia Oseguera thought upon learning that she had been named one of this year’s outstanding Catholic educators in the country.“I’m so glad that my parents could see the fruit of their work and the many sacrifices they made throughout their life so I could have access to education,” said Oseguera, who immigrated with her family to the United States when she was a girl.
On March 29, the National Catholic Educational Association named Oseguera, the principal of Mater Dei Juan Diego Academy, as one of 13 recipients of the 2022 “Lead. Learn. Proclaim. Award.” The honor recognizes outstanding efforts, contributions and achievements on behalf of Catholic education.

She received two nominations, one from her school and the other from Boston College, where she trains leaders of an organization that supports Catholic schools with bilingual programs.

Juan Diego Academy is the first TK to eighth grade Catholic dual-language school (English and Spanish) in San Diego County.

“I believe that the passion I have for Catholic bilingual education is something palpable,” she said in an interview. “I always take advantage of any opportunity I get to share it because I truly believe that it’s our duty to try to bring bilingual education to more schools.”

She has been an educator for 19 years, the last five serving as principal of the academy in Chula Vista.

“Leticia Oseguera is a consummate professional with high standards of excellence. She is a humble and hard worker who loves her school community and lives her Catholic school call to mission with integrity,” said John Galvan, director of the diocese’s Office for Schools.

He said that she had essentially built from the ground up the only dual-language Catholic school model in the diocese in partnership with Boston College.

“Her leadership has been the difference in creating a healthy, happy and innovative experience of faith and learning for families. I am proud to call Leticia a colleague, and our diocese is blessed because of her valuable contribution.”

Oseguera was born in a “tiny town, very rural” near the city of Zamora, Michoacán. Her father, who was only able to attend first grade, decided to bring his family to the United States to give them an opportunity for a better future. She was 8 years old when they immigrated.

They arrived in San Diego, settling in the Logan Heights neighborhood, without speaking a word of English.

“I had to learn it very quickly because I knew that my family depended on me; I knew that my parents needed help,” she recalled.

She’s keenly aware of how coming to this country changed her life, “that’s why I try to help others; that’s what drove me to go into education.”

She recalled two personal experiences, in particular, when her teachers did not have the tools to support immigrant students. She also encountered teachers, however, that recognized her potential and helped her.

When it came time to enter college, Oseguera was sure she wanted to be a teacher. She studied Spanish-language literature at UCSD, and earned a teaching credential at Claremont Graduate University, where she also received her master’s in education.

She worked in Los Angeles for the first two years of her career, then returned to San Diego to teach Spanish-language literature at San Ysidro High School.

“It was a pleasure to teach there because I could identify with students who had experiences very similar to mine,” she said. “I could be a model for them, help them, support them.”

She had been there five years when she seized an opportunity to teach Spanish at the Academy of Our Lady of Peace.

“I saw it as a dream I never knew I had,” she recalled. “Working at OLP was marvelous; feeling physically and mentally the peace and tranquility that come from a Catholic school environment was like feeling God every day.”

She served at OLP for seven years, the last three gaining experience on the administrative side, which interested her. She managed the languages department at the school, was in charge of various programs that supported students academically and socially, and had the opportunity to direct summer school. She decided to pursue a second master’s in School Administration.

“I discovered that, as a director, you have influence that goes beyond the classroom. What I have always wanted to do is to help students, and this now gave me the opportunity to help more people. That’s when I decided to pursue the principal’s position that opened up at Mater Dei Juan Diego Academy.”

In its second year, the school needed a leader who could build its bilingual program — and someone familiar with the Latino community.

“The school had so many needs. It was like a child with so much potential but had not received all that was needed to shine.”

Students learn in English and Spanish at the school, and are expected to fully function in both languages when they graduate.

“We have this population whose mother tongue is English, and we have this other population whose mother tongue is Spanish. We also have students who are bilingual, who speak both languages at home, and read both languages. They build friendships and that’s where a sense of community is born, the idea that we’re all in it together,” she said. “It’s beautiful.”

Juan Diego Academy began to grow gradually, and this summer will be graduating its first generation of eighth-graders.

“Today we’re a completely different school,” she said.

“A big part of the early years was forming a community among ourselves. We knew that it would be a challenge to build a school, but we supported one another, looked for solutions, working as a team.

“The reality is that we’re a special team, a special school.”

It all comes down to the fundamentals, she said.

“At times in education, the word ‘love’ is beginning to get lost while it should be the base of everything we do: In our school, we live and breathe a sense of love.”

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