Lupe Peña-Madison remembers the exact day she decided to be a teacher. It was when her first grade teacher recognized the little girl’s need for extra attention to succeed in an English-speaking classroom.
“I knew from the time I was seven years old that I was going to be a kindergarten teacher, and I was going to teach kindergarten until I retired,” she said. “Now, I have taught pre-k, first grade, second grade, third grade, fifth grade. I haven’t taught kindergarten to this day and now I work exclusively with adults.”
In 2005, Lupe earned her degree in early childhood education while finishing a minor in Spanish. She completed a master of arts in second languages in the summer of 2012 and said the education she received at UALR prepared her for a career with a variety of increasing challenges. That includes her current position as an English as a second language (ESL) specialist for the Little Rock School District, instructing teachers to teach children whose native language is not English.
When she told her family of her plan to become a teacher, Lupe was told there was no money for her to go to college. That, and cultural tradition that said only boys went to college, didn’t deter her.
“I was accepted to the UALR Donaghey Scholars Program – a full ride to a wonderful school, a wonderful university. I could study any program I wanted and I could live at home,” she said. Living at home was important to her parents.
UALR’s top honors program, open to all qualified students with all majors, promotes diversity and interdisciplinary study among students. Peña-Madison said the program opened her eyes to the world.
“It just makes you a thinker,” she said.
The program’s mandatory study abroad component also allowed her to travel to Spain and explore her heritage and language.
“A lot of people asked, ‘Why are you taking Spanish?’ and I said, ‘How long have you been taking English?’” she said. “UALR really encouraged me to fine tune my Spanish. In my Spanish classes, the expectation was not just to produce what the other students were producing, but to give me even higher literature, more challenging tasks.”
Her favorite class was Eastern Thought, a class that she found intimidating at first, but led to a deeper understanding of her own faith. Her favorite take-away from her years at UALR was meeting her husband, a fellow Donaghey Scholar.
Q&A with Lupe
If you could spend one day anywhere in the world, where would it be? Why? No place in particular, I suppose I envision a peaceful environment, in the company of loved ones, with plenty of greenery, a comfy swinging bench or hammock, and (of course) a good book.
If you could talk to anyone, alive or dead, who would it be? Why? I would love to talk with my grandmother, she passed a week before I had an opportunity to see her in over 10 years. I had been waiting for my green card to come through and had bought a plane ticket to ‘meet’ my family in Mexico. I wish I could have some time with her.
What is your hands-down favorite meal? Mole – a chocolate based savory/spicy sauce typically served with turkey and rice.
When I was a child, I was always … determined to make the most of the opportunities available.
What one word would you use to describe yourself? Driven