By Maria Sonnemberg
For Al Dia Today
MELBOURNE — Since she was a little girl growing up in the Dominican Republic, Ana Diaz has respected the value of education. As South Area Coordinator for the Brevard Public Schools, Diaz works side by side with the area superintendent, Dr. Mark Mullins, in the management of 28 schools and one alternative learning center.
Her parents never went to school, but they nevertheless instilled in their nine children the importance of education.
“My mom taught herself to read and write, and my dad always taught us to value education, to work hard and to take care of your family,” said Diaz.
“Their influence is very apparent in their 20-plus grandchildren. One is even a college professor who served as an expert on Oprah.”
To make matters worse, the family moved right in the midst of the infamous New York City sanitation workers’ strike.
“I went from smelling carnations to smelling trash,” said Diaz.
“It was a major culture shock. In my home town in Dominican Republic, everybody knew each other.”
She taught herself basic English to try and blend in with the class of 55 students.
A scholarship allowed her to study education at Queens College, which gave her the tools to begin a teaching career that includes teaching full-day classes of 30 kindergarteners in New York City public schools.
A master’s degree in bilingual and bicultural education at St. John’s in Queens, New York, followed. Diaz also has an Education Specialist degree in Educational Leadership and School Administration.
“At that time, there was a huge need for bilingual teachers,” said Diaz, who soon found herself on the front lines, teaching all non-English-speaking students in Queens.
Being a teacher in New York City meant coming face-to-face with shootings, muggings and street violence. When shepherding her classroom into the school bus one afternoon, Diaz, pregnant at the time, found herself and her students in the middle of a gang shooting.
“I put all the kids in the bus, ran back to school and went into labor,” she said.
“I felt God was telling me to get out. My brother lived in Palm Bay and I wanted my children in Brevard schools, so we moved here without jobs just to get away.”
After a year teaching in a private school, Brevard Christian School, Diaz took a job with the Brevard Public Schools.
Her duties with the public schools included teaching fourth grade at Riviera Elementary, being at Title I writing teacher and elementary specialist, also at Riviera and later at Port Malabar Elementary. She was assistant principal at Indialantic Elementary and principal at Turner Elementary for seven years until she applied for a position as south area coordinator.
“I wanted to be a support for the schools and a voice for the principals,” said Diaz. “Without he principal’s excellence, we can’t have the quality of education we have in Brevard County.”
To maintain the quality of Harbor City Elementary while searching for a principal, Diaz volunteered to serve as interim principal while performing her duties as south area coordinator.
For Diaz, one of the biggest challenges in the school system is the lack funding for high quality education.
“I don’t think we can stretch any more than we’ve already done,” she said. “We just don’t have enough people and I’m afraid we’re going to lose a lot of good solid principals and teachers because they’ve been pushed beyond their limit.”
In the little free time she has, Diaz gives back to the community, supporting the children’s ministry and food pantry at her church and helping nonprofits such as the Brevard Hispanic Center, where she is a board member.
Diaz well knows that without the education she so diligently pursued, life could have been very different for her, and she encourages Brevard students, particularly the minorities, to embrace learning.
“I never had any doubts about my success, because I just never knew to be afraid,” said Diaz. “My education, my family and my faith in God give me that confidence.”