Adriana Cardenas is a longtime Chino Valley Unified School District teacher who is described by her students as passionate, spunky, and selfless.
Ms. Cardenas, 79, has taught Spanish at Chino High School since 1983 and citizenship classes at the Chino Valley Adult School since 1992.
Her priority is to help students who are facing systemic barriers.
“I can tell which students are bright but go unnoticed,” she said. “I make it a point to help whether it’s with personal items, school supplies, or guidance.”
Growing up in Del Rio, Texas in the 1950s and 60s, Ms. Cardenas said her primary school’s classrooms were segregated.
“I was born at a time when different races and women were not treated equally,” Ms. Cardenas said. “I remember what it was like to be left out, so I make sure to give everybody equal help.”
She stays in touch with many of her former students.
Mauricio Guzman, a 21-year-old Chino resident who was her student from 2016 to 2019, said Ms. Cardenas was almost like a “life coach.”
“She was more than a Spanish teacher, she prepared you for the real world and taught you how to advocate for yourself,” Mr. Guzman said. He currently attends Pitzer College in Claremont and said he would not be there if it were not for Ms. Cardenas.
Ms. Cardenas received a bachelor’s degree in Spanish with a minor in English and a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction in 1989 from Cal State Los Angeles. She received her bilingual certification from Cal State Los Angeles.
She knew she wanted to be a teacher since she was seven years old.
“I would gather all the neighborhood children and teach them how to read grocery ads,” she said. “I’d show them each word and say, you better study because I’m going to test you on spelling.”
Ms. Cardenas said she majored in Spanish after falling in love with Spanish literature in high school.
She uses a fun and casual teaching approach, so students don’t feel like they’re learning.
Ms. Cardenas said she’s amazed by how students have changed over the last 39 years.
“When I first started teaching in 1983, the female students would browse through wedding dress catalogues because they were preparing to get married right after high school. But now, their main priority is going to college,” she said.
Ms. Cardenas said her job is full of joyous moments including seeing students get into their dream schools and finding out students passed their citizenship tests after only a few weeks of classes.
“Seeing all the effort these students put into reach their goals is so rewarding for me,” she said.
Ms. Cardenas and her husband David Isley, now retired, worked together at Chino High School. Mr. Isley taught various subjects from 1963 to 1998 including science, math, English, and history. The two became acquainted after talking to each other in the teacher’s lounge and got married on Aug. 23, 2003. They live in Chino.
Ms. Cardenas has two children Renee, 53, and Cynthia, 59 and two grandchildren, Aaron, 26, and Brandon, 24.
She teaches at Chino High School in the day and at the adult school at night.
“I end up going to bed around 11:30 p.m. because I like to watch my novelas and the news,” she said.
Ms. Cardenas holds weekend study sessions at Walnut Park in Chino for her citizenship students who need extra help preparing for their exam.
She said she has already done everything she’s ever wanted to in life and now has to give to others.
“I’m lucky that I’ve already visited the places I wanted to including Paris, China, Spain, Hawaii, Yosemite and I have even seen all of my favorite singers including Juan Gabriel and Los Bukis,” she said.
In her free time, Ms. Cardenas enjoys reading, going to plays, and gardening.
Ms. Cardenas said she plans to retire in the next two years. “When I retire, you’ll find me out with my comadres playing bunco and visiting my cousins,” she said.