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Mentoring the next generation: Idaho

Judge Sergio Gutierrez photoJudge Gutierrez: "Running for me is the best way that I can deal with stress. You know it is part of learning for me, I have learned so much."

For Sergio Gutierrez, almost anything he does turns into an opportunity for learning. He has always pushed himself to achieve, and today is no different as he prepares to run a marathon.

Judge Gutierrez: "I've been at 3:14:00 and 3:15:00 in the last three or four years, so my goal is to shoot for 3:10:00. I started training for this in November. This should be easy. With all that training, this should be easy."

But it hasn't always been easy. Born in Mexico, as a baby Gutierrez moved to California with his mother and stepfather, who were farm workers. When his mother became ill, he and his sister went to live with a grandmother in New Mexico. He still feels her influence.

Judge Gutierrez: "She was really both father and mother to me, gave me a lot of good values and principles to live by."

Gutierrez needed those values when his grandmother suddenly died, and at age 13, he was on his own.

Judge Gutierrez: "Dark days, the darkest day for me. I felt very lost, very alone."

He and his sister went back to his stepfather, only to find that the family had grown to 13 children.

Judge Gutierrez: "I realised that he couldn't afford to feed two more mouths, so I left school. I didn't want to do that, I didn't want to leave school, but the economics of poverty pretty much took me in that direction."

Newlyweds Sergio and Mary photoSoon Gutierrez had met Mary, a young pretty girl in his church. When he was only 17, and she 15, they were married and started having children. The young family eventually went on the road and landed in Idaho. After a series of dead-end jobs, Gutierrez enrolled in a new bilingual education program at Boise State University.

Judge Gutierrez: "In the back of my mind, there was always that desire to go back to school. I also saw very early in my life, the difference that it makes in one's life to have an education or to be without one and to sort of be struggling."

That affinity for those who struggle, particularly those with his background, led Gutierrez to become a lawyer.

Judge Gutierrez: "Especially the farmworkers in Idaho, I realised there was much to be done and that I could hopefully help in some way."

Meanwhile for his wife Mary, who had also dropped out of high school, the same Boise State program trained her as a teacher. Then with four children, she went on to receive her master's degree in education.

Mary Gutierrez photoMary Gutierrez: "It was a struggle, but when you finish, you feel such a relief, such an accomplishment."

Today, she teaches in Nampa in a bilingual second-grade program. For part of the day, the children who speak English do their lesson, while across the room, another group completes the same lesson in Spanish. The method is controversial, but Gutierrez says research -- and her own experience --convinces her that bilingual education helps keep non-English speakers in school.

Mary Gutierrez in classroomMary Gutierrez: "We want to develop their foundation in their language because the research has shown that students who have a stronger foundation have more success. Those students we immerse into English immediately have a high rate of failure."

And she says bilingual education might have kept her from dropping out too.

Mary Gutierrez: "I remember going through school and many times just not understanding what was going on in the classroom. And I think that if she had been able to just translate some of the concepts that she was trying to get across and teach in my language, that I would have understood much better."

Role models were another element missing in her childhood, so today Mrs. Gutierrez tries to provide that mentoring to her students.

Mary Gutierrez: "I encourage my students. I tell them about how they could become a teacher, they could become a doctor, they can become any professional that they want to be, but that they have to make sure that they work hard in school to do that. Even when my husband got his appointment, I used that as an example of what they can do."

That appointment was to Idaho's Court of Appeals, making Judge Gutierrez the first Hispanic to sit on that bench. His ceremony was attended by hundreds of people of all political and racial backgrounds.

Judge Gutierrez: "What a sweet day, not just for farmworkers and not just for Latinos, but for the state of Idaho to have seen a common person with my background, be able to rise to that level of public support and to serve as a public servant for all. It was a great day."

For one girl in the audience, though, Judge Gutierrez was anything but common.

Angeles Jacobo photoAngeles Jacobo: "I was so impressed with him. And I said, I want to be like him. I was working in the fields and I know that I can do it because he did it. "

Angeles Jacobo is the child of farmworkers from Mexico. But like Gutierrez, she wants something more and like him, she wants to be an attorney.

Angeles Jacobo: "There are a lot of disadvantages for Hispanic people. Maybe because we don't know English or because we work in the fields. I will do whatever I can to help them."

Her first job outside the fields is as a pre-school teacher's aide. For Judge Gutierrez, stories like Angeles' give him inspiration.

Judge Gutierrez: "It's still in many families not acceptable that young girls should aspire to go to universities to build careers, build professions. I think that is very unfair. I am just delighted to see her with her goals and her ambitions and her motivations with probably only three years or so of exposure to the English language. That's unbelievable."

Guadalape Jacobo photoGuadalape Jacobo: "I've always encouraged them to study so that they can have a better future"

A better future. It's what Judge Gutierrez wanted for himself, and what he and his wife hope to inspire in others despite the odds.

Judge Gutierrez: "You never give up. There is a race to run and it doesn't matter what place you are there. You just continue doing your part. And that's what I'm about, is do whatever I can that is within my abilities and never giving up."


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