As an elder and leader in the Sif-Oidak District on the Tohono O‘odham Nation, Marjorie Juan helps care for those who are often the most vulnerable in any community – children and seniors. She is a role model, inspiring the young people of her community to reach for more and to excel through education.
For decades, Juan has found joy in guiding and shaping young children.
“They are precious,” she said. “I let them know they are special. I love teaching them the social skills and to respect, share and be honest.”
The path to earning two college degrees was not a simple one for Juan, whose career in early childhood education on the Tohono O’odham Nation spans more than three decades.
Juggling work and family, it took 23 years for Juan to complete the coursework for her general equivalency diploma, or GED, but she never gave up. Once Juan passed that hurdle, her dreams grew. She is a proud graduate of the Tohono O’odham Community College class of 2011 with an associate degree in early childhood education. In 2015, Juan received a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education from Prescott College.
Inspiring her along the journey of higher education was the Tohono O’odham Community College Community of Practice, which is one of the 17 Communities of Practice developed by United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona’s Great Expectations for Teachers, Children, Families and Communities. Great Expectations is funded through a grant from First Things First, which partners with families and communities to help Arizona’s young children be ready for success in kindergarten and beyond.
“It would have been very hard for me to get my degree without the Tohono O’odham Community College Community of Practice,” Juan said. “It gave me a better understanding of the growth that takes place in early childhood, working with special needs children, working with parents, getting them involved in the school system. They helped me be a better teacher.” The Community of Practice armed Juan with a toolbox of strategies to provide developmentally appropriate activities to children, including children with special needs.
“We attended training sessions in Tucson that were very valuable, especially in working with special needs children – children with hyperactivity and autism,” she said. “They took us to Tucson to show us how the techniques work in actual classroom settings.”
When Juan walked on stage to receive her diploma at Tohono O’odham Community College, she became the first in her family to graduate from college.
Excerpted from Great Expectations Realized, a publication from United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona and First Things First.