By Tim Ashley
LEESBURG — Nancy Martinez knows what it’s like to be alone and struggling to try to fit in to new surroundings. There are language, cultural and racial barriers to overcome.
At the age of 7 she came to the United States with her family from Mexico in 1999 and began attending school at Lincoln Elementary in Warsaw as a second grader. “I knew nobody,” she said, adding it would be the fourth grade before she started opening up. “You need a solid foundation in your native language before you can really learn another one,” she said.
Once she became comfortable enough in speaking English, Martinez helped translate for her parents. She then went on several years later to graduate from Warsaw Community High School in 2010.
For the next two years she attended Ivy Tech and studied business administration. While in high school and also later, she worked at the Golden Corral restaurant in Warsaw for eight years up until it closed. “I made connections with families while there,” she noted.
There were also jobs working at Danco Anodizing in Warsaw and Keystone RV in Goshen for about six years between the two. There was a time she was going to take some time off to be with her kids, but that all changed one day when she walked into the office at Leesburg Elementary School to pay for her daughter’s lunches.
The principal asked Martinez if she was bilingual or biliterate. She said yes and “he offered me a job.”
Martinez, since the start of the 2019-20 school year, has been a para liaison (officially a parent liaison) with regular office hours at Leesburg Elementary who communicates in Spanish to families to help them “with whatever their needs are.”
She assists the English and language arts teachers at the school for 30 to 45 minutes each day and helps struggling students to deal with the language barriers they face daily. Helping students can include, for examples, pulling groups out of class to work with them consistently, as well as teaching writing, science and social studies.
“I do guided reading, small projects and experiments with the students,” Martinez said.
She originally had aspirations to be an office assistant or receptionist or something similar. She saved her tips from working at Golden Corral to pay for her tuition at Ivy Tech. For two years, she was a receptionist at Frauhiger Realty in Warsaw and learned much about how a business operates by closing the books, paying bills and doing accounts receivable.
But … “fate led me here (to Leesburg Elementary),” Martinez said, noting she was certainly not expecting to be offered a job by showing up at the school office just to pay for a daughter’s school lunches.
Martinez said she loves interacting with the Hispanic families and participating in events families do at school such as Spanish Heritage Night. This year due to COVID-19 it had to be done virtually. “I focused on getting parents involved in literacy,” she said, “and also getting parents involved in their kids education.”
On Heritage Night, she sent several Spanish books home with parents and then had them recorded on iPads.
Martinez lives near Leesburg and attends Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Warsaw. She enjoys being physically active such as by running, hiking and bicycling on local trails systems. Nancy is engaged to be married to Ruben Sanchez and she has two children: daughter Camila Rojas, a second grader at Leesburg Elementary; and son Adrian Rojas, a kindergarten student at Leesburg; as well as stepson Ruben Sanchez, a second grader.