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South Texas Living

Reminiscing: Getting a ‘head start’ in life

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Rudy Elizondo
May 2, 2012 | 2,171 views | Post a comment

The April 17 issue of the San Antonio Express-News ran a lengthy article about Head Start funding problems. A few years ago, I wrote of my experience in this area. I wrote that when I started school in Floresville at the age of 6, I didn’t know a word of English.

I was enrolled in kindergarten with Mrs. Hunter as my teacher. We were not allowed to speak Spanish on the school grounds under penalty of punishment. Understandably, my Anglo classmates went to the second grade after that first year, and my Hispanic classmates and I went to first grade with Ms. Mae Glass. But later on, I believe it was in the sixth grade, I was promoted to the seventh grade and caught up with my kindergarten classmates.

One of my teachers, Miss Johnnie Merchant, told me that another Hispanic classmate, Theodore Esquivel, and I were the best readers in the class. When we graduated from grammar school, my Aunt Dalila Muniz and I had the highest grade-point average of the class. Being forced to speak English paid off.

When I worked at Lackland Air Force Base, I was a board member of the Lackland Independent School District. All our funding came from the federal government. A fellow board member and I made frequent trips to Washington, D.C., to visit with the elder Congressman Henry B. Gonzalez and other Texas congressmen to present our fund needs.

On one of those trips, I had the unexpected privilege of testifying before Congress about my experience in learning English in school. Congressman Pickle (I don’t recall his first name) asked me to testify. I don’t recall the results of that hearing. Our school did not have a Head Start need.

My wife and I decided that our children, Ronald and Velma, would know English and Spanish when they started school. My wife spoke to them in Spanish and I spoke to them in English. I am very proud of them. Both of them speak, read, and write English and Spanish fluently and proficiently.

Rudy Elizondo is Julia Castro’s nephew and formerly of Floresville.

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