ho believe in the beauty of their dreams,” Eleanor Roosevelt famously said. The quote is a favorite of Gabriela Baldenegro, who after a long and arduous journey, has obtained her Arizona Department of Education teaching certification and is now teaching first grade at A.J. Mitchell Elementary School in the Nogales Unified School District.
Baldenegro said she earned her degree in December from Grand Canyon University with high honors. Years earlier, she had earned associate degrees in early childhood education and elementary education. The path to her current position is more than two decades in the making.
“I’ve been married for 22 years and have three children. My husband and children have always been my biggest cheerleaders when I went back to school,” Baldenegro said. “When I first started subbing with NUSD in 2011, I enrolled in school and finished my associate degree in elementary education. My intention was to continue with my bachelor’s degree right away.”
However, Baldenegro explained, “Life had other plans for me.”
Her mother passed away, she took guardianship of her youngest sister who is disabled, and one of her own children started to have health problems.
“School took a back seat at the time, but my dream was always there to finish it,” she added.
Baldenegro worked at the Child-Parent Centers, better known as Head Start, for 13 years as a co-teacher and then center manager. She also has been employed for Circles of Peace, working with high-risk youth, and then at Sonshine Christian School, ending her employment there last school year as the director.
“I attended school in Nogales from kindergarten through high school,” Baldenegro said of her long relationship with NUSD. “I attended A.J. Mitchell from kinder through fourth grade and attended fifth grade at Challenger Elementary the first year it opened up.”
She then transitioned to Wade Carpenter Middle School and graduated in 1994 from Nogales High School.
“Every time I felt like giving up, my kids would leave me a little note to encourage me or would tell me that they believed in me, which was my favorite phrase to them when they were discouraged with school work. Without their support, I could not have accomplished this and it made me realize that now more than ever, I had to finish what I started for them,” she said.