Raciel Oropeza is a model of perseverance. A teacher at Elmdale Elementary, his path to becoming an instructor was far from traditional.
Oropeza’s journey started in Mexico where he went to school to become a teacher. Getting a teaching degree in Mexico is not cheap and requires a person to take a lot of classes and expend a great number of hours. Mr. O, as his students call him, got married and started a family and after working under contracts for many years he decided he wanted to move his family to the United States.
“Working under contracts was difficult and that is one of the reasons I wanted to move to America,” said Oropeza. “The other reason is because my daughter wanted to be a doctor and really wanted to study in the U.S.”
After arriving in the U.S. Mr. O applied to the University of Arkansas and hoped that his credits would transfer and that the process to become a certified teacher in America would be short and simple. That was not the case.
“I took a lot of courses there and did different workshops and none of them counted here,” said Oropeza. “You have to submit all of your information from there but you also have to get information from your previous school in Mexico. The U of A contacted the school back in Mexico but couldn’t get any information because there was nobody who spoke English so all of the information that I submitted that was already translated and everything was not good enough. Therefore I had to start over.”
Hearing the news he had to start completely over was heartbreaking and frustrating for Oropeza, but he didn’t give up. Mr. O is now in his ninth and final year studying at the U of A, a process that has been elongated due to his time spent working as an Instructional Aide at Elmdale Elementary, a place where he feels at home.
“I feel connected with the students here,” said Oropeza. “Working here has been challenging because I had to learn the language and it is not easy when you are 30 something or 40 something years old and I am almost 50 and still learning. The awesome part is that you see the kids grow from basically nothing. I have seen kids who didn’t know any English and grew and become good students and that is the awesome part because I identify with them.”
Mr. O is taking four classes this semester and four classes next semester and then will officially be a licensed teacher in the U.S. While this will be no doubt rewarding, Oropeza’s main goal for his life is for his wife and kids to be happy.
"I have a wonderful family and have been married for almost 28 years and have three daughters and I want to see them graduate and be happy,” said Oropeza. “If I get a job here as teacher I will enjoy it and I won’t be under stress. I have been under a lot of stress this whole time because I have had to work, take classes and take care of my family but being steady and seeing my family happy will make me happy.”
So far, Mr. O’s goals are lining up. His oldest daughter graduated from Springdale High first in her class and is now in her fourth year at UAMS in Little Rock studying to become an OB-GYN. His second daughter is in grad school getting her masters at the U of A to become a teacher and his youngest daughter is a third grader at Elmdale. Elmdale and the entire district is proud of Mr. O, whose perseverance is a model for all the lives he impacts. #THEChoice