They became teachers and principals. They helped shape thousands upon thousands of lives. Products of the Operation Chicano Teachers (OCT) program — an initiative that began at California State University, Northridge in 1973 and was intended to recruit and give academic support to Latino students interested in education careers — 13 women from the second cohort are making a new impact.
The 13 women banded together recently after years of internal discussions to create the Operation Chicano Teachers Scholarship. Beginning this fall, two Chicana and Chicano Studies majors, whose intentions are to become social/science history teachers, will each receive a $1,000 scholarship funded by this thankful alumnae group.
“I’m grateful that I’m able to do this for someone else,” said Susana Rubinstein, who after graduating from CSUN became an elementary school teacher and later principal at Harding and Sylmar Elementary schools. “I’m so grateful that someone else can have a little bit of what we had. … A lot of young girls are in the same position we were in in the ’70s. They are the first people going to a university and reaching their goal. To be able to pass this forward, I’m very grateful.”
Operation Chicano Teachers began in 1973 through a three-year grant from the Ford Foundation. The money helped pay for staff salaries and gave each student an annual stipend of $1,000. Most OCT students, according to an article in the Daily Sundial from Oct. 18, 1974, took 19 to 21 units per semester.
Students had to apply for a spot in the program. They had to be bilingual, desire a career in education and have a strong academic standing.
“[CSUN] opened classes and then blocked them [for us]. Only the group in the cohort could attend these classes,” recalled Rosa Eshaq, who taught elementary school in Los Angeles before becoming the principal at White House Place Primary Center and later Mayberry Elementary School. “We were tracked every semester. We would be assigned to the same literature class and the same math class. To be in the same cohort helped us along.”
The first two years of the program had 75 students start it each year. With students taking the same classes, it formed a team-like approach to earning a degree. It also created special bonds.
“That’s what made the difference in us succeeding,” Eshaq said. “I think we all had the courage. I think we were all scared, but we were determined to accomplish something. And I think we may not have graduated without the extra support from CSUN, OCT and the Chicano Studies Department. We felt like a family. We weren’t alone. That was the key. It’s a reason why we were close and still are close. We yell at each other every now and then and get on each other, but we love each other.
“OCT represented an opportunity for us and many other students to fulfill a dream; a dream to be the first to graduate from college and in turn help immigrant children like us and be the role models and an inspiration that so many don’t have.”
Rubinstein said she came from a family where there was never any incentive for a woman to go to college. She was born in Argentina and came to the United States at 10 years old and had to pick up English quickly.
“If you’re going to do this crazy thing (go to college) and not get married, you have to do it on your own,” she said was the thought within her family.
She first went to community college in New York, and later made her way out west and to CSUN.
Rosa also arrived in the U.S. at age 10. She came from Mexico not knowing any English.
OCT was a gateway to help kids who grew up just like these 13 women. All 13 became teachers, and three became principals at some point. Today, they are all retired educators.
For years, the group talked about giving back. It wasn’t until more of them retired that the talk became closer to reality.
“I basically said, ‘We’ve been talking about this. Let’s do it,’” Eshaq said.
Eshaq said she met with Chicana/o studies professor Gabriel Gutiérrez who introduced her to CSUN Director of Development Suren Seropian and Development Associate Chelsea Wisenbaker, who laid out an easy plan for the group to make the contribution.
“CSUN has been wonderful making it easy for all of us,” Eshaq said. “We’re grateful for the opportunity to do this. … It’s a start. And who knows, as we move forward, what else can come of this? We’re happy and glad to do this. If it weren’t for the university, Chicano Studies, OCT, who knows where I would be?”