By Helena Rodriguez: PNT Staff Writer
Since the beginning of her career with Head Start in 1965, Gloria Ortega, of Portales, has witnessed many changes in the preschool program, most for the better, a few for the worse, says the recently-retired educator.
More children are coming from single parent homes, being raised by grandparents or are coming from younger-aged parents facing tough challenges, she says.
On the up-side, Ortega noted that staff now receive more extensive training and certifications, which in turn helps them provide a better education to children. Also, parent involvement, which was a new concept during the early days of the program, has come to play a critical role in the national program.
Dolores Penrod, retired director of the Community Services Center and a community activist, served on the Home Education Livelihood (HELP) program board with Ortega during the mid-60s and remembers scrubbing floors with Ortega to prepare the old Head Start building at 505 North Ave. B to open. HELP was a program for migrant children, including families of broom corn pickers.
“Gloria has always been there, involved in teaching children, advocating for children and their families, and advocating for better programs in north Portales,” Penrod said. “Back then, Head Start was something new and people were very distrustful and suspicious.”
At her retirement Dec. 20, Ortega served as the site manager for the Portales program. She spent 20 years as a teacher and over the years, she also worked as a content specialist, a position which required a lot of travel, and as an education and mental health specialist.
Ortega is still not quite used to the idea of being retired, saying, “It is sort of soaking in … I plan to travel, God willing, and to be around my family. I was always on the road, and now I can be committed to them.”
She added, “What I miss right now is the daily contact I had with the people I worked with and I miss a lot of the parents. I loved my job.”
Ortega has not only seen children come and go, but their children’s children as well.
“Sometimes I saw kids grow up and when they would come and bring their own children or grandchildren, they’d say, ‘You’re still here?’” Ortega laughed.