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Donna High School teacher Patricia Vivanco refused to let her humble beginnings living as a child in Mexico keep her from dreaming big. So, she applied to graduate school at an Ivy League university. Now, three years later, she completed her goal and plans to share her knowledge with her students so that they will also set high expectations for themselves and hopefully pursue an Ivy League education someday.

Vivanco teaches math in the Texas Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (T-STEM) program at DHS. She said representatives from the Texas Graduate Center in Mercedes had come by the district to inform interested teachers about the master’s degree in Mathematics for Teaching offered at Harvard University’s Extension School. Vivanco said that she had not planned to apply. “I didn’t think the odds of getting in were very high, but my family pushed me to go for it so I applied,” Vivanco said.

After a couple of interviews, Vivanco received an email notifying her that she was invited to complete three courses required for acceptance into the master’s program. “I was in class and didn’t plan to open the email until my students left, but I couldn’t help myself. So, I opened it and read it out loud and that’s when a lot of clapping and excitement broke out. After that, my students started calling me Ms. Harvard wherever I’d go.”

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Vivanco said that the master’s program was rigorous. When she was not attending online video classes, she was required to be on campus at Cambridge, Mass. for three summers. She said it was hard being away from her son who was 1 year old and daughter who was 11 at the time. But, she gave it her all and ultimately obtained her Master of Liberal Arts, Mathematics for Teaching degree this past May.

“I took my family with me for the graduation ceremony. When I was walking across the stage, I was in awe. I couldn’t believe it. I don’t even know how to describe it. My daughter was so proud. It opened her eyes. She got to see the beautiful campus, the classrooms and the dorms. Her expectations for herself now are higher. She knows that she can do so much more than what she thought she could do.”

Vivanco said she wanted to set an example for her students as well and show them that they can also set high goals and succeed if they work hard at it.

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“When I started teaching here, I noticed that my students weren’t setting high expectations for themselves. I was in the same situation. I came from Mexico at 16 and learned to speak English as an adult. I struggled in high school but with hard work, I made it through with a good GPA. I want my students to see that despite my background, I made it into an Ivy League school. I want them to know that they can do it too if they set high standards for themselves. If they put in the work, it will pay off later.”

Vivanco said this school year is the first time she will be applying her three years’ worth of knowledge in the classroom. She now sees things differently. “I received my bachelor’s degree in mathematics and while I was well-informed, I saw things differently. Each math subject was on its own or in sections. But now that I went through this master’s program, I see everything connecting. It’s one big clear picture that I’m excited to share with my students. Understanding the process, that’s how our students are going to be successful.”

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