Alumna's Path from Farmworker to Principal Full of Hurdles

Very little has been easy for Lupe Robles on her journey from a farmworker upbringing to her position as principal of Evelyn Hanshaw Middle School in south Modesto. She overcame one of her biggest stumbling blocks while a student at CSU Stanislaus.

Robles, who made it through school with good grades despite often frustrating and confusing difficulties in studying, neared a breaking point during her first year at CSU Stanislaus. Advisers recommended testing that revealed a learning disorder and extreme test anxiety, and Robles found a clearer road to success.

"I was able to reduce my study time almost in half," she said. "I had gone all these years with this problem, and nobody had ever helped or took the time to even ask. I wonder on a daily basis what would have happened to me if I had attended any other university."

Robles' challenges began in childhood. Her parents moved to Vernalis from Guadalajara, Mexico, and she was the first of her siblings to be born in the United States. As a child farmworker, she harvested "just about every fruit and vegetable known to Stanislaus County," working in the fields at 5 a.m. and returning there after school.

School itself was a challenge, leading the young Robles to question her own intelligence and aptitude.

"I struggled a bit in elementary and junior high school," she said. "It always took me twice as long to read or learn a concept. At first, I thought I was just stupid."

Parents Stressed Education

But her parents always stressed the importance of education, even sending the children to summer school and Saturday religious schooling regardless of the inconvenience or travel required. Robles went on to thrive in high school despite her difficulties, becoming senior class president while working to help support a family that included seven brothers and sisters.

"I remember telling myself that I did not want to work in the fields for the rest of my life," Robles said. "That helped me stay on track no matter how hard things got or how much I might have disliked certain subjects."

After graduating from Modesto Junior College, Robles transferred to CSU Stanislaus, where she received assistance and advice from Christy Gonzales, now chair of the university's Liberal Studies department, and Kathy Shipley, now the associate dean of the College of Education.

With their help, Robles discovered and overcame her learning disability, but health problems exacerbated her difficulties. Her work schedule also made it difficult to find the classes she needed for a degree she was just two semesters from completing — a bachelor's in organizational communications with an emphasis in business management. She began to reevaluate her goals.

Change of Course

Despite having worked in payroll accounting and business for six years, Robles decided she wanted a career in education. She changed majors, and Gonzales and Shipley helped her find a class schedule that took advantage of summer and winter terms to condense nearly four semesters of work into a single year to complete a B.A. in liberal arts.

"I owe Christy and Kathy a lot," Robles said. "They never gave up on me and consistently encouraged me to do my very best. The time they took to help me out — even when it was not school-related — meant a lot."

Robles went on to earn her teaching credential from CSU Stanislaus and found her first teaching job in Modesto, but she didn't stop there. She joined the Center for Research on Education, Diversity, and Excellence at CSU Stanislaus, hosted student teachers in her classroom and became an instructor in the state's Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment program. She became the district's bilingual language development specialist, a position she held for five years.

In 2010, Robles became an assistant principal at Mark Twain Junior High and shortly thereafter was hired as principal at Hanshaw, where her connection with CSU Stanislaus has remained strong. She works with the university to help credential students meet their student teaching requirements, and she is a vocal advocate for the quality of teachers the university produces.

"They prepare thorough lesson plans, they know how to evaluate data to help them prepare and modify their instruction, and they understand how important it is for students to understand the day's learning objectives and purpose," Robles said. "And they have a great work ethic."