2013 Community’s Choice!

The results of the District 5 Heroes 2013 Community’s Choice vote are now available.

Only one hero receives the Community’s Choice recognition for the 2013 “District 5 Heroes” event and this year’s hero was Sandra Garcia. Below are the nomination stories for the top three Heroes who received the most votes: (1) Sandra Garcia, (2) Maria Young, and (3) Dr. George Castro.

You may also click here to view nominated hero stories. Or you may click here to view photos and videos of the District 5 Heroes recognition on June 29, 2013.

MOST VOTES AND 2013 “COMMUNITY’S CHOICE” for special recognition: Sandra Garcia

Sandra Garcia

According to Kim and Stacy: Sandra García was part of the original design team that created Adelante Dual Language Academy, one of the Alum Rock Union School District’s most successful small autonomous schools. As the school’s principal for the past 9 years, “Directora García,” as she is fondly called by students and parents alike, has built a solid foundation for Adelante to become a well-respected and vibrant institution in District 5.

Adelante’s curriculum is an innovative approach to providing a well-rounded and rigorous public school education resulting in students being bilingual and bi-literate in English and Spanish by graduation from the 8th grade. Adelante opened 10 years ago on the campus of Cesar Chavez Elementary School. Under Directora García’s leadership, the school has grown to over 540 students from kindergarten through the 8th grade on its own campus. Despite the growth of Adelante, Directora Garcia is distinguished by her personal relationship with each student and their families. It’s not unusual to see the Directora walking through campus greeting students, siblings, and parents by their first names.

As a result of these relationships, Directora García has created a family environment in the Adelante community. Adelante has the most robust and successful parent participation program in the district. The parents are leaders on campus in the variety of extracurricular activities and programs offered at the school. She has also translated her community-building skills into bringing much needed resources to campus. This spring, Comcast and NBC-11 provided over $30,000 in materials and volunteer hours to beautify the campus and create a positive leaning environment for Adelante’s students. Prominent public officials and community VIPs regularly visit Adelante to learn about its innovative educational program.

This year, Adelante graduates its second 8th-grade class. The students have distinguished themselves as leaders in academics and extracurricular activities. When Directora García became principal at Adelante, the school’s Academic Performance Index (API) score was 692, well-below the goal of 800 set by the State of California. Since then, Adelante has become the fastest growing school with respect to API scores in the district, and one of the fastest growing in the state. Last year, Adelante posted an amazing 836 as an API score, nearly increasing 150 points in just a few years. Additionally, Adelante athletic teams, music program, and Math Engineering, Science, and Achievement teams are well-known throughout the district.

Directora Sandra García has led the effort to make public education in District 5 a great choice for families. She has built a team of dedicated teachers, parents, and students with high expectations, a passion for her community, and a sincere love for her students and their success. For these reasons, Sandra García is a District 5 Hero.


Maria Young

According to Juan: Maria Young is a hero who exemplifies many in our community who have overcome great struggles. My mother has always placed my siblings and me above all else. She married the man who is my biological father at a young age. He was emotionally and physically abusive towards her. Although it was the only life she knew, she decided to leave him. Our welfare, then as now, mattered most to her.

She was 18 years old when she decided to brave life in a new world. She had a three-year-old daughter, a one-year-old son (me), and was pregnant. With more courage than any fictional hero could ever hope to muster, she put her fears aside and journeyed to from Mexico to America to build a new life. She spoke only Spanish and had no work skills whatsoever.

Nonetheless, she had a work ethic that can only be envied. Despite the language barrier, she secured a job in a cannery warehouse in order to better our lives. To that end, she worked long hours on the swing shift and was often forced to ride the public bus home after midnight.

Although she was a single mother trying to raise two, and then three, kids, she was adamant about succeeding on her own. She firmly believed that she should build her own future. Through her example, I realized that I could succeed despite all odds if I simply persisted and worked hard.

To ensure that she best able to provide for her three children, she pursued a higher-paying warehouse position in the cannery that at the time was unfortunately considered a job for a male. It was physically demanding, including lifting gallon size cans of fruit much of the day. Her request was denied, but she persisted until she was finally granted the position. As can be expected, she excelled in the position.

She also did her best to ensure that I would do well in school. Prior to entering the first grade, she had already taught me basic math skills, and other essentials, such as the difference between left and right. Although she could only teach me in Spanish, the head start that she gave me enabled me to tackle English, among other subjects, with ease.

She built confidence in me by letting me know I could always depend on her. As an adult, I never even consider that failure is a possibility when I embark on a new goal. When I do “fail,” I view it as an opportunity to learn from the experience. I owe all of my faith in myself to her. I never had to worry about failing because I knew she was my constant safety net.

I also owe the very fact that I am able to live in the US to my mother’s accomplishments and perseverance under incredible hardship. When I was 10 years old, a representative from the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) knocked on our door. He then told my mother that someone had informed INS about our undocumented status. He then told her that he was there to give us 30 days to leave the country. For some reason for which I can only be grateful, the INS agent then began questioning her.

He soon discovered that she had risen to the challenge. She had come to the U.S. on her own. She had then proceeded to work, pay taxes, learn English, and raise her children all on her own. He offered to represent her at an INS hearing, where he then recounted all the details of her life. After hearing such praise for the struggle she had undertaken, my family was allowed to journey to Mexico to then re-enter the US as documented residents.

Maria Young is a District 5 Hero who exemplifies many of the people we all know in our community, many who are heroes in their own right.

THIRD-MOST VOTES: Dr. George Castro

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According to Alum Rock Educational Foundation: Dr. Castro is a retired research scientist from IBM and a former Associate Dean at the School of Science at San Jose State University. While at SJSU he was in charge of the SJSU MESA Program. (MESA: Math, Engineering and Science Achievement). Dr. Castro has been committed to mentoring students to explore the field of science, as well as promoting higher education and supporting their efforts to attend college.

Dr. Castro has been a member of the foundation board since 2003. Since 2003 he has operated the Science and Technology lab at Joseph George Community Center. Hands-on science activities are offered to students age 8 and older daily after school.. The middle school students also have the opportunity to participate in SJSU’s MESA Program. The program also provides support to the science programs at Joseph George Middle School. The program has served over 700 local youth since it began.

In 2010 the program expanded to include hands-on workshops for teachers. These workshops provide support to teachers, assisting in the creation of classroom projects and activities for their students. Dr. Castro writes grants to support the program, which is currently funded by the Mountain Winery Kid’s Foundation and IBM, and is also supported by the City of San Jose, Parks, Recreation and Neighborhoods Services (PRNS).

According to AREF Board members: 

Dr. Castro inspires Alum Rock youth to expand their academic curiosity and he broadens their horizons. He had devoted many years to creating exciting learning environments in which students discover that they can shine academically and can aspire to careers in engineering, math and science.

Dr. Castro is gracious, humble and immensely generous in sharing his knowledge, resources and time. In the short time that I have been on the AREF Board, I have witnessed his amazing ability to bring youth enrichment programs to life and his devotion to his students’ learning beyond the classroom. I am so very grateful to him from his guidance and for being the inspiring role model that he is.

Dr. Castro puts in more time and effort as a volunteer running the Science and Technology Lab than most people do in the jobs they get paid for. He is truly committed to the providing educational enrichment opportunities to the youth in our community.

Click here to view all the other heroes recognized in 2013 as”District 5 Heroes“.