The alarm is set for 6 a.m. every day. She wakes up with her heart full of enthusiasm. She has been doing this for 31 years, but she still is in love with what she does. With all her energies and passion to help others, she gets ready for another day as a teacher at White Plains High School.
With slow but firm steps, with her strong voice and that look that intimidates, Malula walks every day around White Plains High School. She is always trying to “annoy” every teenager, looking for an “excuse” to send them to their counselors, detention or anywhere those kids eventually, will realize that everything she is trying to do is to help them understand what’s good for them and their future.
The workday doesn’t start until 7:30 a.m., however, she is always there at 7 a.m. “Kids need me to open the office so they can print their homework,” she says.
Her passion has always been to help others. Especially the Hispanic-Latino culture.
Malula Gonzalez is the coordinator of the Hispanic Outreach Program at White Plains High School. She is from Venezuela and she came to the United States 45 years ago. She went through all the desperation that all immigrants feel when arriving here for the first time. She knows the struggle of not understanding the language and many more challenges immigrants must confront daily. Even though it is difficult, she recognizes that is not impossible either.
“Education is such an enrichment career. You must love it. My passion for helping others has been in my heart since I can remember,” says Malula.
Her goal as the coordinator is to support and help those kids that don’t know what school is supposed to accomplish.
“it is impressive how many kids, mostly Hispanics, come here and do not understand what addition and subtraction is something so basic but difficult for them,” Malula says.
This is one reason Malula is so dedicated and passionate with the program. The kids that sign up for her program are most of the time kids that forget about school because they must go to work or help their parents at home. These kids don’t understand how important school is because they didn’t have the opportunity to go to one or they didn’t have the necessary help from those schools in their native countries.
Thanks to White Plains school district, Hispanic Center and some colleges and universities that have been allies to these programs, kids can have a one-to-one tutor. Many of these tutors are volunteers from colleges like Pace University, Manhattan Ville, and Westchester Community College, and alumni from White Plains High School too.
Malula says, “I feel happy and excited every time an ex-student comes and offer their time for the program.”
But she never thought she would end up as a coordinator. She describes her work as “nothing” compared to all the team that’s behind her back. According to Malula, teachers, counselors, administrators, sponsors, and parents are the ones that are always there to help her with anything she suggests is best for students.
“They are thankful that they gave me to translate between teachers and parents, or students to teachers and many more circumstances.”
Decades ago, Hispanic parents were afraid to go to their Child’s school to find out about how bad or good they were in school. Authorities from schools with Hispanic students used to think parents didn’t care about their kids. However, that has changed, and parents have more opportunities to interact with their kid’s school because there are more bilingual staff trying to help those parents.
“Mrs. Malula is the person who as a young student, you will see her overbearing. Because as teenagers we don’t know what is good for us and most of the time, we are wrong. Malula is such a big help to mentor all these kids, she does more than she is supposed to. I am glad we crossed the path, because she is always being dedicated to helping everyone but especially Hispanic kids,” Adrian Pucha, alumni from 2010.
But, did Malula dream to be involved in a student’s life as much as she has been for all these decades? Most likely no, she had a dream to become a teacher at a University in Venezuela. However, those plans changed when she had to migrate for the first time to London. Her husband had to finish school, and they went to London for a year and a half, to finish with his career.
“We were together since I was 19 years old and we stick together anywhere one had to go”. After their time in London, she came back to finish her career too. She was pursuing an economics degree. However, her husband was promoted in his job and they had to migrate to Panama. It took her 10 years to be done with her career since they were moving from one country to another one. After Panama, her husband was promoted again, this time changing their future forever, bringing them to the United States.
She was not ready to end her career with a Master’s in economy, so she started her Ph.D. at the New York University.
“Everything was new for me, but I was ready to keep going with my career, I was about to start research with one of my professors and then I found out I was pregnant.”
She describes her pregnancy as a miracle since they were trying for about eleven years. She stopped all her plans to dedicate herself to her first born, she didn’t want to miss any special moment with her baby.
After two years, she had her second miracle, she became pregnant again. She dedicated herself to stay home mother until her kids were old enough. After the precious time with her kids, she was ready to find a job.
Her husband saw the posted job as a coordinator and told her it had all her characteristics. Why? Because she was always involved with everything in their child’s school. She was part of the PTA and anything that required her volunteer time.
With her heart full of wonderful memories and with the satisfaction of having helped many kids for all these years, Malula doesn’t regret taking this job three decades ago.
“Even though many teenagers do not understand why I worry so much about their education, they will thank me eventually,” says Malula.
She recognizes and jokes around, that as Hispanic, her English will never be perfect. Not only for her but for most of the Hispanic people that come to the United States after a certain age. “We will never have the accent with TH just as Americans can never pronounce double R” says Malula.
Hispanics underestimate what they can do and bring to this country. According to Malula, most of the time these students arrive to this country without understanding a single word in English. After getting comfortable with the language, they forget that to keep learning the language; they need to keep going with school.
“That’s why I am here for, to push them to the next level. It is difficult, I understand because I was once in the shoes of these students,” says Malula
Malula has a long trajectory in the Latino community at White Plains High School. Most of her students remember her as a strong character lady. She loves to help but also; she has a strong personality of doing the correct decisions in any situation.
“If she has to send you to detention because you were late, she will do it, I was a troubled kid, I know she is strict and she takes everything seriously but everything is for our own good,” Max Tobar, alumni from 1997.
Just as many students recognize her dedication and help, the White House gave these programs and coordinators recognition in 1998. President Bill Clinton invited those programs and their representatives to the White House. The Hispanic Outreach Program, and 14 other enrichment programs that are dedicated to helping children in low-income communities to develop the aspirations and skills needed to go to college, as early as the 6th grade.
These programs will help them understand how they can go to college by informing them about college options, academic requirements, costs, and financial aid, and by providing support services; including tutoring, counseling, and mentoring, to keep them on track through high school graduation and into college.
“Malula wants the best for the Latino youth, but many students don’t see that yet, she is like a grandma, she wants the best for you and tries as much as she can to help you make the right decisions. Once you are in college, you realize you end up missing people like Malula,” Rorghino Flores, alumni from 2015.
Thanks to these kind of programs around the nation, students have a better chance to graduate from high school, be ready for college and feel supported and to be ready for new challenges.
For these and many more great memories Malula feels complete with everything she does. “What I do is my hobby, I am almost 72 years old and I am not planning my retirement yet.”
Malula says that she is in love with her job and everything she has accomplished. Her husband has been her greatest support throughout all these years, her daughter and son couldn’t be prouder of the mother they have. Her daughter is a teacher now and understands how gratifying it is to help others. Even though her son is not associated with a teaching career, he wishes to create a foundation in her honor, which he plans to call it Mrs. Malula Foundation.
She is grateful for the program results because Hispanics are having the same percentage of graduates as American students. However, her program is open for everybody, she has many American students that do visit the program and look for help when they need it too.
She refers to the time she was an interview in second grade, the teacher asked everyone what would they like to be when they become adults and she said “I would like to be a teacher, that way I can teach others what I was taught”
All Malula wants is to guide those students and kids. She feels rewarded when she sees her students achieve anything they want,
“It costs nothing to dream, if you dream about something, then you can do it.”