VirginiaLiz Cartagena will study in Manor’s Early Childhood Education program starting this Fall semester.
When she was five, VirginiaLiz Cartagena moved with her family from the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia to Lancaster. Cartagena’s mother moved the family to avoid violence, but despite her best efforts, her children still ran into issues.
“My mom didn’t want me to grow up in that area of Philadelphia for a reason, but Lancaster is a place where you can cross the street and run into some trouble, too,” Cartagena said. “I definitely ran into some trouble and behavioral issues.”
Cartagena got into fights, had outbursts and often walked out of class. Since her mother didn’t speak English, Cartagena often ripped up and threw away her report cards. Then, she encountered a teacher at her middle school that changed her future.
“We just had a connection and started talking,” Cartagena said. “She told me about the Milton Hershey School and I applied to be a student there.”
The Milton Hershey School is a cost-free school in Hershey where students are given access to tuition, housing, meals, school supplies, counseling services and medical care. The school accepted Cartagena’s application a year after she applied.
“It was a miracle,” Cartagena said. “I knew I needed to change. It was nice to know I was given an opportunity and a second chance.”
While at Milton Hershey, Cartagena took an internship with the organization’s elementary school. She worked as an assistant teacher with second graders.
“I thought I was going to be observing more, but I was thrown into the fire,” Cartagena said. “The teacher gave me power and said, ‘you’re a teacher now.’ We looked at lesson plans and I got to know how the class worked.”
The experience gave her a chance to help “Milton Hershey kids” like herself. The rewards came from watching the students grow right in front of her own eyes.
“We would be looking at a flower growing or showing how worms move and a student would run up and go, ‘Miss Virginia, look at this dirt!’ or ‘Miss Virginia, I don’t want to touch a worm!’”, she said. “It’s just fun, exciting and I learned to love the connection I grew with my students.”
When it came time to start looking at colleges, Cartagena knew she wanted to continue pursuing a career in teaching. A counselor at Milton Hershey introduced her to Manor College.
“I knew I didn’t want to go to a big school and thought I could find a connection at Manor,” Cartagena said. “From the first time I visited Manor College, it was always welcoming and genuine. It felt like the right place for me.”
This past Summer, she enrolled in the institution and is eager to begin classes next week. She’s already jumped into campus life, serving as a work study student with Manor College’s Student Affairs Team and working in the Manor College Bird Feed.
With her degree, she hopes to combine her love of teaching with her passion for art. As she looks toward the future, she hopes to instill the same gift to others that she once received – an opportunity.
“Not everyone is given the opportunity to change and also to choose education,” Cartagena said. “ You never know when you will stumble upon someone who needs help. I’m just incredibly lucky someone did that for me.”