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Local teacher finds success after parent mentor program

Kindergarten teacher Ebelia Mucino says she did not know she wanted to be a teacher until she became a parent mentor. | Jacob Wittich/Sun-Times

Jacob Wittich

When Ebelia Mucino, a kindergarten teacher at Avondale-Logandale Elementary School, immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico, she had no confidence. She moved to the U.S. illegally in search of a better life but struggled to learn and understand a new language.

Mucino said she barely spoke and felt like she did not know anything. She hesitated to get involved in her community because she didn’t think she was qualified.

Her attitude changed when she joined the Parent Mentors program through the Logan Square Neighborhood Association to volunteer at her children’s school.

“It empowered me, giving me the opportunity to find who I am, what I am and what I can do,” Mucino said. “I wouldn’t have known that I have this gift in me to be a teacher if I had not been in the classroom.”

The Parent Mentor Program trains parents who wish to volunteer, then places them in dozens of schools across the city and state. Teachers get help from parents, who coach groups of children in reading and math or help with other classroom duties. The parents, meanwhile, get help from the program with weekly workshops, training and support.

Mucino did not know she wanted to be a teacher until she became a parent mentor. She was a stay-at-home mom who enjoyed spending time with her three children.

“I found my true passion when I was in the classroom. I was productive and felt a happiness that no one can explain in words,” she said. “Through working with children I felt that I was changing the world.”

Mucino is one of about 50 parent mentors who have used the program to become classroom teachers through the Grow Your Own initiative, which makes forgivable loans of up to $25,000 to candidates who agree to teach in underserved schools for at least five years.

Mucino’s journey to become a schoolteacher took seven years. She graduated from Chicago State University in 2007, and in 2008 she began teaching third grade at Gary Elementary School.

“It felt like heaven when I saw my title, ‘Mrs. Mucino, bilingual teacher.’ I could not believe it was me and thought it was a dream. I had to pinch myself several times to realize my dream came true,” Mucino said.

The Parent Mentor Program that Mucino credits with getting her started on her career is in danger. Gov. Bruce Rauner has proposed eliminating the program’s $1.5 million budget, leaving members and advocates of the program rallying for it to be refunded.

“I’m a living testimony that the Parent Mentor Program works. Rauner should fund it because people just like me are waiting for an opportunity but don’t know yet,” she said. “And when people like me become educated, we will give more to the government, the city and the community rather than be depending on welfare.”

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