Can you please share about your life’s journey and the transition of your family from Vietnam to San Diego, along with your experiences in the City Heights community?

I came to America in 1986 as a boat person who escaped Vietnam. My mother took care of me and my two brothers while also pregnant with my younger sister. During the end of the Vietnam War, I was rescued with my family by a military warship and taken to Hong Kong, where we survived for a year. I was fortunate to be sponsored by a church to come to San Diego, and I have been living here since August 1986. In fact, I lived around two blocks away from Rosa Parks when I arrived. I have been living or working in the City Heights community ever since I immigrated to San Diego.

You have served the City Heights community for many years. Describe your current and past roles and what you have enjoyed the most.

I am currently a fourth-grade teacher at Rosa Parks Elementary School, where I have been teaching since 1997 when the school first opened. Over the years, I have taught first to fifth grade. I love being at Rosa Parks because I strongly believe in creating a safe environment for my students. I also run ASB, the Associated Student Body that encourages student leadership. The students fundraise while promoting peaceful school settings outside the classroom. I created and currently supervise the robotics club, which encourages students to explore creativity through the basics of mechanical design, computer programming, engineering, and problem-solving. Even though this is a competitive environment, teamwork and perseverance help students be successful. These characteristics are important and will be needed in tomorrow’s leaders.

An event I always enjoy and help organize is Tết, the Vietnamese New Year celebration. We have a whole school assembly and invite community leaders from City Heights to speak. There is a special luncheon for parents, community members, and staff. We advocate wearing the áo dài, a traditional Vietnamese long dress and have performances like the Lion Dance and other traditional dances. This event brings us together as a community, encouraging students and parents to celebrate culture.

What accomplishments and impacts are you most proud of with your work in the City Heights community?

Being at Rosa Parks Elementary from the start, I really put my passions into the school. The most fascinating part is now teaching the children of my former students and really knowing and feeling connected to the families of the community. I always feel honored when they are comfortable enough to ask me for guidance beyond elementary education. Many of the life and supportive resources I guide them toward are sponsored by Price Philanthropies. These services positively impact their day-to-day lives.

Having been a teacher at Rosa Parks since 1997, you’ve been an integral part of the school community. Can you share some memorable moments and highlights from your work as an educator at Rosa Parks?

For me, the best part of teaching at Rosa Parks Elementary since 1997 is having former students come back, look for me, and tell me about their life experiences. When they check-in and share that they are still part of their community, the feeling I get as they tell me about their new journeys of work and life experiences is worth so much. It’s a real highlight to have them graduate and see them in careers like the military and the healthcare industry. One of my students I taught through a reading room program came back to tell me he became an astronaut! In an educator’s life, I feel very fortunate to be there for my students from the beginning so they can come back and remember me and remind me of the impact their childhood experiences had.

The most important lesson I teach all students is the significance of education and going to college to have a job and life stability. While these students may have real challenges outside of education, like finances or family situations, it would be easy to forget about education. I want to help them find their special talents and what they are interested in and passionate about. I want to provide a safe space for them to learn life skills. For example, one of my fourth-grade students has a situation regarding homelessness, and it is difficult to survive. When his bag broke, he asked me to teach him how to sew and fix his backpack. I was so proud that he had the courage to ask and now, he happily teaches other students in the classroom to sew. This student recently received a voucher to stay at a hotel. I believe having a life skill, whether big or small, makes students’ lives a bit happier.

What changes have you experienced in City Heights over the years? What partners have been instrumental in this change?

The first principal at Rosa Parks Elementary was Emily Watts, who created a group of teachers as dedicated as her. She was a great leader and role model who instilled a passion for teaching and making a difference in the lives of the staff, students, and the community. We had around 1,500 students that first year, and she was out there greeting them all by their names. It was an inspiring start for me, and I also got to know all the students and staff by name.

Over the years, we created an amazing community hub built and supported by Price Philanthropies. We have a resourceful parent center, staffed with four full-time social workers who assist students and families. We also have a health clinic that can be accessed for checkups with a doctor and nurse. Every month, we hold multiple parent education classes that range from children’s education and free legal advice for immigration to advice on either custody or divorce topics. We also have a food pantry that provides produce and food staples for those in need. These changes make a direct difference in the lives of families who need support.

Is there anything that has surprised you the most over the years as an advocate for City Heights and the Rosa Parks community?

What surprises me is even though the cost of living has been challenging for families, they still want to live in City Heights and be a part of the Rosa Parks community. Unfortunately, some families are forced out because of high rent. Sometimes, multiple families live together in a household because they want to have the supportive resources the school provides for their kids and the community.

What lessons have you learned throughout your efforts that you would like to pass on to others?

I believe while an educator’s job is to teach academics, being present for a child is most important. When staff know students have challenges outside of school, it is best not to fixate on required test scores. We should not forget they may be going through food struggles, parents separating, or shelter instability. It is very important to celebrate them for being present in the moment and to give them a safe space at school. I always think about what I can do for a child with empathy and I’m grateful they are present for me to do my job. I believe in not just teaching education, but teaching the whole child. If a student is absent, the next time I see them, instead of focusing on the learning requirements, I tell them I am happy they are there.

Do you mind sharing with us a bit about your life outside of your work? What are your other passions, talents, and hobbies that you enjoy?

My husband has a restaurant I help with. As soon as I get out of my school job, I go to my second job to help at the restaurant. Due to having a second job, I tend to get up as early as 4 AM to be at school to prepare for my teaching day. I also open my classroom around 6:30 AM, or sometimes earlier, in case of emergencies, such as parents needing to drop their kids off early for them to have a safe place. Other passions I have are running ASB and going with the robotics club to different school challenges. My husband and I also love traveling in our RV and spending time with our grown children.

What advice or encouraging words would you give youth and community families in City Heights?

I encourage people to do what makes them happy and do it with a passion. Once your education journey is done, remember to come back and support your family and community. Don’t compare yourself to others or with material goods, but look within yourself and build strong character. Remember, you have family and a community of support. Give back when you are older because that is how we strengthen our community. When you want to leave the area, remember you still have community support because we want you to be at your best, and we have your back.

Mr. Price recognizes you as a City Heights Hero for all you do for our community, and it is clear you’ve become a hero to those you serve in City Heights. What are your thoughts about this recognition?

I am super honored to be recognized as a City Heights Hero for the community and feel humbled because I love working with the students and community. The main reason I can continue is because of our benefactor, Mr. Price. I feel like I can do what I do with his support, as well as support from the staff and students. I don’t claim this title by myself. Instead, this is for all the people who work with me and support me. As I was becoming an educator, my journey to where I am today was directly supported by Mr. Price. He gave finances to Rosa Parks staff to get our master’s degree so we could do the job we do. Teaching full-time with a newborn and 2-year-old was a challenge while furthering my education; however, I am grateful I was able to earn my master’s in education with Mr. Price’s support. The degree taught me how to teach to a whole child with the perspective and the mindset of an open heart which I continue with my teaching today.

Moreover, I believe this opportunity allows me to give back to my community and be recognized by Mr. Price. To get to this point in my educator journey, I alone cannot do my job without the community of people. Price Philanthropies gave us all the resources we needed to support the community, and it is truly tremendous. Their efforts make me feel part of the community and allow me to advocate for City Heights and direct people who need help to assistance programs. As a system of support, Price Philanthropies provides resources to support the parent center, clinic, and classes. The connections I have made in the community inspire me to continue my work. I thank Mr. Price, Price Philanthropies, my coworkers, the community around me, my family, and my students for all their support.