Multicultural Roots Project

The Multicultural Roots Project was created to increase visibility for Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) in Sonoma County, with a particular focus on Santa Rosa; and to recognize, through historical stories from BIPOC, contributions and impacts that have shaped Santa Rosa and Sonoma County. Working with local historians and community partners, Community Engagement staff gather stories and facts about local BIPOC leaders, as well as historical events and places that have shaped Santa Rosa and Sonoma County into what it is today. Each month, we will share five of these stories with the public through multiple communication channels, including the City’s website, social media and this newsletter.

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Aug 30

Vicente Sosa: The Power of Having a Teacher Who Looks Like You

Posted on August 30, 2022 at 1:40 PM by Danielle Garduno

Web_VicenteSosaVicente Sosa was never the kid that loved school. Growing up in Santa Rosa and attending schools with overwhelmingly white student bodies, staff, and teachers, never made him feel like it was a space of belonging for him. Now, about to begin his fourth year of teaching, Vicente has a different outlook on education. However, it took time and many hardships to find his passion for teaching our youth.  

Born in Morelia, Michoacán, Vicente’s family moved to Santa Rosa when he was two years old. His family settled in Santa Rosa and that is where Vicente has lived ever since. Growing up, he attended Santa Rosa Middle School and eventually went on to Montgomery High School. Vicente loved soccer so he decided to go there for sports, instead of following most of his friends to Santa Rosa High School. All through elementary, middle, and high school, Vicente simply went through the motions; he was never a big fan of school besides the fact that he could play soccer and see his friends. So, when it was his senior year of high school and the pressures of going to college began to set in, Vicente began to consider what his next steps would be.  

The messaging Vicente remembers hearing was that: “You have got to go to college, college is important, but it’s expensive. Yet no one ever taught me about FAFSA, or financial aid. No one provided support or encouragement, saying ‘hey you can do this, you can make this work.’” Although there were many barriers in Vicente’s way, he knew he wanted to go to college so he could continue to play soccer and pursue higher education. The most affordable was the Santa Rosa Junior College (SRJC) and this turned out to be the best choice for him.  

Once at the SRJC, Vicente spent his first year enjoying the social aspects of college. He made many friends, hanging out with his peers, partying, and playing soccer, but soccer was a big commitment. Trying to balance academics, all the commitment soccer took up, and his social life, it was too much, and something had to give. After a year Vicente decided to stop playing soccer. However, he felt like he wasn’t going anywhere.  

Feeling stuck, Vicente started searching for a job but struggled to find something. He decided to apply at a fast-food joint, thinking he had it in the bag, but when Jack in the Box didn’t hire him, he felt at an all-time low: “At that point, I was so down. The jobs that usually most people tell you without education, this is where you are going to end up working, wouldn’t even hire me…it was a turning point for me.” 

After this harsh rejection Vicente’s girlfriend (now wife) encouraged him to work with students and apply to the program she was working called “Cool School.” Vincente thought about it and decided to apply for a part-time AmeriCorps position that was available in the program at Bellevue Elementary School. As fate would have it, Vicente got the position. In his new job, he got to dip his toes into his first teaching role. In the mornings Vicente would teach a program called “Healthy Behaviors” which focused on teaching students about eating healthy and exercising. After school, he educated students on the USDA’s “My Plate” nutrition guide and exposed students to what a balanced meal is supposed to look like.  

This was a transformative time and job for Vicente. What made him rethink his own educational path was when he got to have honest conversations with students. When he would hear all these kids saying how they didn’t like school, Vicente felt a real pull towards these youth. “All the kids who were struggling the most academically, I could relate to them, they were all brown.” Vicente would do his best to encourage these young students to stay in school and push the importance of education, but students would ask him, ‘well what about you?’ This was a key time of self-reflection for Vicente. He realized he was pushing this message to his students but was not leading by example. The thought of becoming a teacher was something that crossed his mind, but he thought he could never become a teacher because he always hated school. Yet, he also realized that he could be the very thing he needed when he was these kids' age. 

Hoping to positively impact students of color so they don’t have the same negative experience he had, Vicente began to pursue this new passion for creating and inspiring change from the inside. From there, Vicente got help from his partner, peers, and teachers at Bellevue. They helped mentor and guide him about classes to take to become a teacher; guidance he had never had before when it came to school. 

Vicente also discovered the Puente Program where he learned everything he needed to know to be successful once he transferred to a university, which also set him up for success in his newfound academic pursuits. This made school successful for Vicente. “Once it clicked, I wanted to be there. When I wanted the education and I wanted to work, it worked…when I went back, and I had a purpose that drove me to make it work.”

In 2016, Vicente graduated from the SRJC with his Associates of Arts (AA). He transferred to Sonoma State University (SSU) where he earned his Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Development in 2018. Eventually, Vicente went on to get his special education credential through a program called “Be an Intern Teacher” at the Sonoma County Office of Education (SCOE). This program allowed Vicente to teach a class and take night classes for his credential at night. The “Be an Intern Teacher” program was the final step in getting Vicente to where he is today. 

About to begin his fourth year of teaching, Vicente has a different outlook on education. He says, “I didn’t have a teacher who ever changed my life. I was that troublesome child that was always goofing around. Most teachers just saw me as a headache. I think that’s part of the reason I didn’t really like school was because I haven’t really had anyone there believe in me.” 

Now, Vicente is a Special Education Teacher at Meadow View Elementary school and teaches a combination class of 4th, 5th, and 6th graders. For Vicente, building relationships with students is one of the most fulfilling and important aspects of this job, “…finding ways to engage with students and allowing them to bring in the things that bring them joy or interest them, and creating space for those things within their education.” This includes building relationships with their families and parents and asking questions about how things are at home, advocating and educating students and families about their disability, explaining what the IEP means, and the services they receive, as well as translating for parents is often a big part of the way Vicente engages. All of these better allow Vicente to help his students the best he can.  

Outside of work, Vicente enjoys the simple pleasures of life: raising his son, soccer, art, and the fine art of craft beer.  

Growing up Vicente never remembered seeing many teachers at his school that looked like him, let alone a teacher who took interest in him. We often notice the lack of things in our lives, wishing things were different or better. Instead of just accepting the lack of teachers of color, Vicente decided to help change that by being a solution to the problem itself. At a time when he felt lost with no real direction, Vicente found his passion and a path that allowed him to be what he needed as a child. Thank you, Vicente Sosa, for making the youth of color feel more seen, understood, and supported. Your passion, identity, and advocacy are needed in our schools and for our communities of color. 

Vicente Sosa was interviewed by Daniel Chaparro, Community Outreach Specialist, and Madelynn Cox, Community Engagement AmeriCorps VISTA.  

To learn more about this story and the important work of Vicente Sosa visit the links below.   

References: 

LinkedIn: Vicente Sosa