Retiree Ilda Garcia rewarded by ‘happy little faces’ during 39 years of helping students

Ilda Garcia was born in California to migrant working parents, but the family moved to Wyoming shortly after she was born. They lived in Cody, where she went to elementary school through the third grade. Her father began working for a farmer in the Powell area, which afforded Garcia the opportunity to stay in one school system from fourth grade through high school. She graduated from Powell High School in 1972.

She attended a few classes at Northwest Community College, but in 1974 she married Vince Garcia, who was in the Army stationed at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas. They lived there for three years.

Ilda Garcia

After her husband was discharged, they moved to Lovell in 1978, where they raised five sons.

During the summers Garcia worked at the migrant school and did some substitute teaching at Lovell Elementary in the regular school year. In the 1980-81 school year good friend Esther Garza, who was already working for the school, called Garcia to tell her that they needed a bilingual aide. Garcia was hired by Keith Russell and Sylvia Gams for the Educational Resource Center. 

“In 1983 or ‘84 that program closed,” Garcia said. “I would be out of a job, but Francis Hecker, Lovell Elementary principal, called and told me not to worry, that I would have a job in the fall. When school started that year I was employed as an aide at Lovell Elementary for four hours a day. My job was to make copies for the teachers on the ditto machine, do typing that needed done and, of course, recess duty.

“Eventually, they began using me a little in the classroom helping students, which turned into full-time, spending more and more time in the classroom. For five or six years I spent half of the day as a special ed aide. I was asked to teach Spanish in kindergarten through second grade the other half of the day.”

English Language Learners (ELL) was a program adopted by LES. It is for students who are unable to communicate fluently and learn effectively in English, who are often from non-English speaking homes and typically require specialized instruction in English and help with their class lessons. Garcia worked with ELL students in small groups and one on one. She also continued to assist special ed students.

“Working with small groups and one on one, helping special needs students was my favorite part of the job,” she said. “I was amazed at their efforts. They worked hard and wanted to please you. The younger kids were so loving and accepting. It was so rewarding to see their happy little faces.”

Garcia looked back on the time when typewriters were being replaced by computers. 

“We liked our typewriters and wondered why they were taking our typewriters away from us. We didn’t know anything about computers and didn’t want to make the change. After we learned how to use them, we laughed about not wanting them. We found out they were so much nicer to use,” she mused.

Garcia was not pleased with the closure of the school in March. She missed the direct communication with her students, she said.

“I loved the interaction with the kids. It was hard ending school like we did. I would have a Zoom meeting with my supervising teacher, who assigned two to three students from second and third grade for me to work with each day, usually in 20 to 30 minute sessions, also on Zoom. We focused on reading, math and a little writing. I might meet with a student once or sometimes several times a day, according to the student’s need. I missed the face to face interaction with them,” she said.

Now that she is retired, Garcia plans on doing whatever she wants at home, she said.

“I’ve always worked summers, so I’m enjoying taking care of my garden this year,” she said. “I’ll have time to do some sewing, too. 

“I’m really looking forward to hanging out with my 12 grandchildren. My oldest just graduated, and the youngest will start kindergarten in the fall, so I’ll still be able to keep up with what’s going on in school. It will be fun just being grandma.

“My husband and I want to do some traveling, but we’ll have to plan around his job. He still works. And my friend Esther and I will travel, also. She’s a good friend that has always looked out for me. So it will be nice to spend time with her.” 

Garcia concluded by saying, “I loved my job and am so happy I had the priviledge to work with all those kids for 39 years.”

BY TERESSA ENNIS

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