Heather Zunguze: Kindergarten

     Born and raised on California’s Central Coast, I grew up a member of St. Angela Merici Catholic Church, where our long-time parish priest, Rev. Fr. Jerry McCormick, has always modeled a deep concern for all God’s people.  Growing up in such a strong community of Beatitude people inspired my own lifelong commitment to both education and social justice. At the University of California, Davis, I earned a degree with honors in English literature followed by a bilingual teaching credential in K-12 English, Spanish, and elementary education.  In 1999, I was named UC Davis’s Humanitarian of the Year for my leadership role in the Newman Center’s Christian Life Communities, my service trips to Tijuana, Mexico, and my work in two Title-I elementary schools.

     In 1999, I started an international teaching career that has allowed me to live, work, study, and travel on four continents.  First, I worked as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mozambique, Africa, teaching English as a Foreign Language and HIV/AIDS Education.  There, I met my future husband, Jeremias, at the Mission of St. Joseph in Mapinhane, where he also taught English and Portuguese. Fast-forwarding through the years, our beloved Father Jerry presided over our marriage in 2003.  In 2009, Father Jerry honored us again by coming out of retirement to baptize our son, Betinho, also at St. Angela Merici Church.

     For sixteen years, I was a K-12 classroom teacher:  I taught third grade (11 years), fifth grade (1 year), Title-I reading and math intervention (2 years), and English (2 years).  In California, I worked within a migrant farm worker community in the Salinas Valley as well as within a diverse urban community in the San Francisco Bay.  In the eleven years that we lived in the Bay Area, my husband earned three degrees, including his doctorate, at the University of California, Berkeley, and our son was born in Oakland, just blocks from our beloved Golden State Warriors’ stadium.  I also earned National Board Teacher Certification in English as a New Language through a program at Stanford University. Meanwhile, I became one of the founding teachers of the only namesake school for the living civil-rights icon Ruby Bridges. For nine years, I taught at Ruby Bridges, where my own son got to go to kindergarten within a school community that speaks some thirty different languages!

     In 2015, Jeremias accepted his dream job as a professor of Africana and Lusophone Studies, and our little family moved to Asheville.  I have since retired from classroom teaching in order to focus on Betinho’s education, his various extracurricular activities, and my own interests, such as writing creative nonfiction, editing academic papers, running long-distance, and traveling.  In 2017, I began working in a supporting role with our sweet kindergarten classes at Asheville Catholic School, and we enrolled our son as an ACS student. Every day, as a bilingual teaching assistant in kindergarten and as an ACS parent, I am grateful for the home that we have found here, and I pray for my son to grow up with not only a world-class education, but also the strong sense of faith, hope, and charity that have guided my own life and work.