Rios: A Story of Success

Norma Rios is seen helping an ELL student with homework. She works with the ELLs at the end of each school day.

Norma Rios’ family moved to Arizona from Hermosillo, Mexico when she was just 11 years old. Her world switched from one language to another, leaving a young girl confused and afraid to even speak at school or in public for nearly two years.

At school, the seventh-grader was placed in a class full of English-speaking children and an English-speaking teacher. She was a fish out of water.

“It was a really — I hate the word ‘awful experience’ — but it was not pleasant,” she said on her time learning English. “They didn’t have (ELL) programs. It was sink or swim.”

I think it’s just about learning how to be resilient. You don’t have a choice.”

— Norma Rios

Rios went on to discuss her educational experiences and the compassion she received from her teachers. Without formal programs, students received little assistance learning English; however, her seventh grade English teacher was extremely helpful.

“She wanted to highlight things I could do,” she said with a nostalgic smile.“I like to think that I was a really good student. I wanted to learn”

While she was learning to assimilate into American culture, she recalls how her home was very reminiscent of Mexico. 

“Everything about my house was Mexico,” Rios said, explaining the difficulties of living in two cultures. 

Her parents considered doing well in school to be crucial for success in this country. They put a lot of emphasis on respect and hard work. 

“I think it’s just about learning how to be resilient. You don’t have a choice,” she said.

She went to college to pursue a degree in communications and wished to become a journalist. Then her boss suggested she go into teaching. After initially rejecting it, she got her masters in education and never looked back.

After working at Corona del Sol Junior High for many years, she interviewed with Dan Serrano, and he showed her the dirt patch that would become Perry High School. 

“I mean, the experience to open a school,” she said, “I like to think it was by chance and by luck and by opportunity.” 

She came here to teach Spanish, and has taught at every level over the years. Now, Rios teaches the AP Spanish classes and serves as the department chair for the world language department. 

“I relate to their need to want to know,” she said.

One of her students, senior Evan Crabtree, said,“I think it’s really inspiring to know that she was able to go through that and succeed and come out the other side.”

But this year she’s taken on the job of working with what she describes as the “invisible kids.”

During sixth period, when everyone else just wants to go home, she is attempting to communicate with the English Language Learners, kids who have moved here and are working to learn English while being thrown into new classes. 

“I feel like I’m their safe zone,” she said. She helps them with homework, talks to their teachers for accomodations, or sometimes just lets them relax. She recently suggested the English Language Learners Assistants (ELLA) club, which partners ELLs with other students to give them high school experiences.

 Her goal as a teacher is to have an impact on children’s lives. She wants each student to have a fair chance at success.