Mariana Bañuelos cuts the extra laminate off posters for her classroom. With only a few days before school starts, the new teacher is placing the final touches on her classroom decor with handmade posters all in Spanish. (The Enterprise/Isabella Garcia)

NYSSA — Crouching over a knee-high children’s table, Mariana Bañuelos is putting the finishing touches on handmade posters for her classroom in preparation for the first day of school — and her first as teacher.

“The goal is to be over prepared,” Bañuelos said about starting the year at Nyssa Elementary School. She talks freely about her nerves, but her brow is never furrowed for too long before her eyes crinkle up with a confident smile. After all, this is her home turf. Bañuelos was born and raised in Nyssa, only leaving to pursue a teaching degree at Eastern Oregon University. Getting back to Nyssa was always the goal. 

“Nyssa was my dream job,” Bañuelos said. So, when the Nyssa Elementary principal offered her a position teaching first graders with the dual language program at the time she was student-teaching Nyssa fourth graders last year, Bañuelos knew she had to take it. 

“I was really nervous at first — a lot of these teachers were my teachers,” the 21-year-old said. 

[ KEEP YOUR LOCAL NEWS STRONG - SUBSCRIBE ]

The positive experiences she had with those teachers, and teachers throughout the Nyssa district, inspired her to become an educator.

Bañuelos is a first-generation college student. When she was applying for college, her parents couldn’t help her. 

They didn’t know what made a personal essay stand out or where to look for scholarships because they’d never been through the process. 

“They didn’t know how to support me,” Bañuelos said. But her teachers did.

Mariana Bañuelos staples a birthday chart to the bulletin in her classroom. The chart lists the months in Spanish and helps keep track of which students have birthdays each month. (The Enterprise/Isabella Garcia)

In her senior year, Bañuelos relied on her teachers at Nyssa High School to help her find affordable colleges and scholarships, as well as advice and words of encouragement. That experience of fighting for her education and relying on the guidance of her teachers solidified the type of role model she wanted to be.  

“Education is very valuable because it is something nobody can take away from you,” Bañuelos said. There were times when Bañuelos wanted to give up and work instead of getting her teaching degree, but she fought for her dream. 

That is the value she wants to instill in her students and the success she hopes they award themselves.

Bañuelos will be teaching a classroom of English-speaking, Spanish-speaking and bilingual students in both Spanish and English. Partnering with another teacher, Bañuelos will teach the students in Spanish – her first language.

The program coordinator, Connie Cabrera, is acting as Bañuelos’s mentor through her first year of teaching. Cabrera, who’s been teaching for nearly 30 years, remembers Bañuelos from the playground.

“It’s like when you raise your child to become a good citizen. When you raise your student to become a teacher, it’s double that,” Cabrera said.

Cabrera believes that Bañuelos’s ability to identify with Nyssa kids will be a great strength in the classroom. 

“She knows what the school offered her and how she ran with it,” Cabrera said.

Have a news tip? Reporter Isabella Garcia: isabellagenterprise@gmail.com or 541-473-3377.

For the latest news, follow the Enterprise on Facebook and Twitter.

SUBSCRIBE TO HELP PRODUCE VITAL REPORTING -- For $5 a month, you get breaking news alerts, emailed newsletters and around-the-clock access to our stories. We depend on subscribers to pay for in-depth, accurate news produced by a professional and highly trained staff. Help us grow and get better with your subscription. Sign up HERE.