Education is all in the family

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 18, 2002

When Maria and Anthony Guerrero decided to take the risk of going back to school, they knew it would be a challenge &045; both for them as students, and for their family. But with graduation from Riverland near, they are both glad that they did it.

&uot;It’s been kind of hard, but it’s exciting to finally graduate,&uot; said Anthony. &uot;It’s been an experience!&uot;

A better life for their children is one reason, both say. But they wanted to find careers that would give them more pride in themselves and satisfaction as well.

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&uot;I did it for myself and for my kids, so things will be better for them after finishing school,&uot; he said. Anthony has also seen some immediate benefit from more education, as he was able to get a job in data-processing at Hormel in Austin a year ago. The job came as direct result of how much he had invested in his classes at Riverland, he said.

Before going back to school, both had been working on the line at Schweigert Foods in Albert Lea, starting there back when it was still doing business as Hudson Foods. The work was hard and paid enough to get by, but it was very stressful and didn’t seem to be leading to a better life for them and their children.

&uot;I woke up one morning and asked ‘Why am I doing this?’ With two languages I can find something better,&uot; said Maria.

So they started discussing the possibility of going back to school. The problem was they couldn’t decide who should go back to school first. One night, after kids were in bed and they were discussing the topic again, they suddenly decided that they would both go back to school at the same time and somehow would manage to keep the family going, too.

Since neither had finished high school, both had left school early to work full time, they had to start with earning their GEDs through Community Education in Albert Lea. Maria actually started on that process full time at first, and Anthony would study with her when he got home from work in the evening. After the GED was obtained, they both started taking classes at Riverland, Maria in human services and Anthony in accounting.

Although finding time for family was a constant challenge, all the studying they had to do also had some benefits at home. The children would see their parents doing their homework and began to invest more in their own learning at school. The couple has five children: Vivian, 10; Priscilla, 7; Christina, 6; Anthony Jr., 4; and Karina, 3. The older ones attend school at Lakeview and the younger ones are in preschool.

Maria was born in Mexico and is bilingual, and besides using those skills at work and at school, she speaks both Spanish and English at home with her children. She’s trying to raise them to speak both languages, but keeping that going was one of the things that was made more complicated by being a student herself &045; especially since her husband speaks English as his first language. The kids are learning some Spanish, but they speak it with an American accent, she said, with a grimace. She’s hopeful that they will retain enough of the language to understand and appreciate their heritage.

Anthony was born in Florida, and grew up working in the fields with his family. His decision to continue working full time while he was in school helped them get through the whole experience, and now that he’s graduating, he’ll be looking for full-time work in his field &045; anywhere he can find it.

Maria is working as an interpreter and in community outreach at Planned Parenthood currently, but she would like to continue on with school, and earn a bachelor of arts degree in a field that would allow her to work as a social worker or probation officer, where her bilingual skills will be an asset. At the moment she’s looking at Minnesota State University-Mankato, but it will depend on where Anthony finds an accounting job.

And they have some advice for those who are also willing to take up the challenge of going back to school while working and raising families.

&uot;Hang in there. It’s going to be difficult, but the end result will be worth it,&uot; said Anthony.

&uot;If I did it with five children, others should be able to, also,&uot; said Maria.