‘… I like to help people’

Published 6:30 pm Friday, May 31, 2024

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Laura Ramirez retires after years of serving community, contributing to education


On Wednesday morning, seniors from this year’s graduating Class of 2024 took a walk through Woodson Kindergarten Center where it all started for them.

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Success coach Laura Ramirez, like the rest of staff and teachers watched the students make their way through, greeting the kindergarteners with high-fives and smiles.

It’s likely Ramirez would have known a great many of the students that walked through the school and for than a few of the graduates remembered Ramirez from her  20 years as a para and now success coach in the Austin Public Schools District. The student’s tour Wednesday was a source of pride.

“It means a lot,” she said. “It means that I see the product — the end product — because they started here needing me for everything and now they are able to do it themselves. I’m so happy.”

A parent or visitor to Woodson Kindergarten Center will have likely met or worked with Ramirez at some point, helping students and families of Hispanic background better merge with the district.

In fact, it’s hard to find some corner of Austin that hasn’t been touched by Ramirez’s caring for the community, but after two decades in education with the district, Wednesday was also her last day as she embarks on retirement.

“Her role was instrumental,” said Austin Online Academy Principal Jessica Cabeen on Ramirez’s role as a success coach. “It’s so much more than transplanting. It’s about understanding the community and culture and really learning how to work with other people in diverse perspectives that adults don’t have.”

Woodson was Cabeen’s first job as principal within the district and she began working with Ramirez early on. She remembers Ramirez not just as a valued employee within the district, but as a friend and mentor.

It was Ramirez that provided Cabeen with an important perspective when working with the Hispanic community.

“I can remember my first year with her,” Cabeen said. “It was my first family death; one of our student’s mom had passed away. She took me to the funeral and explained everything and she really taught me the importance of seeing a school and a community as a whole child and not just in a classroom. Really being involved in their lives outside of school. I think that’s something I’ve taken with me through everything.”

While Ramirez has worked with the district since 2004, her career in education expanded past Austin and borders altogether. Her entire career  in education has spanned  to include years working in Mexico before coming to the states.

But it wasn’t just education. When she followed her husband, who was living in California, to Minnesota she began working with the Parenting Resource Center and then went back into education as a para at Sumner Elementary.

“I started working as a para at Sumner and then they needed an interpreter for Woodson and Sumner so I was divided in the two schools.”

Ramirez was among the first Success Coaches in the district, however, in a lot of ways she was a success coach for the community as well, doing what she could to contribute.

“It’s just that I like to help people,” Ramirez said. “Since I moved to Austin in 1992, I started working with Head Start. I was a volunteer for them at that time. I could interpret from English to Spanish to the parents.”

One of the things she’s most proud of, however, is building a bridge that brought Hispanic parents closer to the schools their kids attended, not only for the benefit of their children, but to give them a say in the community they were living in.

“It’s very important because then the parents and the kids have a voice in the community and with the teachers,” Ramirez said. “I think at the beginning it was very difficult to bring the parents to conferences. They were not attending conferences. Now we have 100% of parents every time we have conferences. It’s something good for the kids and the parents.”

These contributions follow her outside of the school as she has also been known to help Spanish speakers by simply going to the supermarket.

“When I go to the store sometimes they don’t even know I speak Spanish,” Ramirez said. “They hear that I’m talking in Spanish and they ask me if I could help them with this, can you help me with that. I’ve been helping families everywhere and I like that.”

Former Austin mayor, Bonnie Rietz, fondly remembers working alongside Ramirez at a time when the influx of diverse communities was starting to ramp up in Austin.

“We were working so hard to include people and be welcoming and there are some of those go-to people,” Rietz said. “They worked in both communities or all communities. Throughout the years, she’s always been one of those people. She’s always been like that — welcoming.”

During those years, Ramirez became a member of Blandin Foundation Leadership as the community worked to be a place immigrants would be welcomed. In that vein, Ramirez was someone Rietz could always turn to.

“She was always one of my go-to people if I had questions about immigration and refugees and how our communities could be more welcoming,” Rietz said.

Under all of this work, was a person that Rietz could talk to on a variety of topics. Rietz said Ramirez was about the discussion at hand rather than making a snap judgment.

There’s some people that you can talk to about sensitive issues or challenging things and who don’t get defensive,” Rietz said. “You can talk to her. She can represent a group of people and you listen and you enjoy.”

“She’s a wonderful person to talk to and somebody you can trust,” Rietz continued. “She’s just fun to be with. She has such a great, hearty laugh. You want to give her a hug and find out what’s happening. One of those people you like to be around.”

While Ramirez has jumped into supporting the community and helping where she can, she has always remained humble about what she’s done. For Ramirez it’s just something that makes her feel good.

“I’m happy with what I’m doing for the community, for the kids. I’m so happy to see them and that they are learning English at this age.”

For administrators like Cabeen, who work closely with success coaches, Ramirez is a prime example of the work they do. They proved to be a template for working within the diverse communities of Austin.

“Her ability to see people no matter what the circumstance has been inspiring for all and lets people know they can be in education even though they aren’t an educator,” Cabeen said. “We all have a role in supporting children.”

With more time on her hands, Ramirez said she will take the opportunity to travel more and visit and help family when she can, though she added that she won’t be completely retired. She still plans on helping when and where she can.

“I would like to say thank you to the public schools for giving me the opportunity to be involved in our community and their kids,” Ramirez said. “This is a family. The school is a family for us. For me. My extended family. I feel comfortable around them and the teachers and parents.”