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Medina woman named NY student of the year by continuing education association

Staff Reports Posted 5 January 2017 at 9:40 am
Maria Castaneda

Maria Castaneda

Maria Castaneda, a Medina woman who is a continuing education student at the Orleans/Niagara BOCES, has been named a “student of the year” by New York Association for Continuing and Community Education.

She was among 21 students state-wide honored during a recent conference in Latham. Nicole Sarratori and Walter Stewart, Niagara County residents in the Orleans/Niagara BOCES program, also were recognized at the annual conference on Oct. 25.

When Maria moved to the United States from Mexico in 1994, she only had a sixth grade education. She and her husband spent eight years as migrant farmworkers following the crops from oranges in Florida, cucumbers in Ohio and apples in New York.

The frequent moves from north to south, with their young daughter in tow, meant Maria’s young daughter would be forced to repeat first grade. Maria insisted to her husband that she would stay behind in New York so their daughter could get a better education and not be forced to change schools so frequently.

While her husband continued the migrant circuit, they had two more children. Maria took a job in a greenhouse and decided to obtain her goal of being an American citizen. She knew the value of education and wanted a better life for herself and her family.

In 2014, at the age of 43, she entered the Orleans/Niagara BOCES program at the World Life Institute Education Center in Waterport and started to learn English and prepare for citizenship. Maria worked hard and moved along quickly in her citizenship class, mastered writing and grammar skills and enthusiastically learning concepts of civics and US history.

Unfortunately, some devastating news and events forced her to withdraw from class temporarily. Maria’s beloved mother passed away in Mexico while she and her husband were going through a divorce. When she returned to class she worked very hard to catch up and received more devastating news that two cousins had been murdered in Mexico.

Despite all the heartache, she focused on her goals and on Sept. 16, Maria stood with citizens from 72 nations at SUNY Brockport and became an American citizen and registered to vote the very same day.

For more on NYACCE and the student of the year winners, click here.

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