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Jacqueline, Jeannette and Julie Mejia Cardona — Cultivated in Alisal

Jaqueline, Jeannette and Julie Mejia Cardona

Alisal Community, Jesse G. Sánchez, and César E. Chávez teachers 

Mejia sisters in front of Alisal Mural

Sometimes, good things come in three, and that’s undoubtedly the case with the Mejia Cardona sisters, all of whom attended Alisal USD schools and now teach in the district.

Julie Mejia Cardona, the youngest, now teaches sixth grade at Alisal Community School.  Jeannette Mejia Cardona, the middle, teaches third grade at Jesse G. Sánchez. Jacqueline Mejia Cardona, the oldest, teaches fifth grade at César E. Chávez Elementary.

Jacqueline and Jeannette transferred to Frank Paul Elementary during their third and second year, respectively, when the family moved from Watsonville to Salinas. Their parents, born and raised in Mexico, met in Guanajuato and moved to the United States after getting married. Their father worked in the fields and their mother stayed home so she could supervise her daughters’ education.

“They have always been very involved in our education,” Jacqueline said. “Too much. Even now with the grandkids. They told us that’d be our only herencia. They pushed us to be someone, and to come back to our community to promote it with our kids too.”

With the two oldest only one year apart, they had the same teachers except for Mrs. Della Maggiore, who was Jeannette’s teacher in second grade.

“It was honestly a really hard change,” Jacqueline said. “Over there (at Hall School in Watsonville) there was a cafeteria, we did not have a cafeteria here. I had Ms. Tinajero in third grade. She was a great teacher and made me feel welcome.” 

It was not only the change in the cafeteria that made the change difficult for the young students. They also had to walk about a mile to their new school, during the rainy season, whereas there was bus service available in Watsonville. And yet, the help Jacqueline received from Ms. Tinajero was such that it propelled her to achieve student of the month.

“Julie had it easy,” the sisters joke. 

Julie also attended Frank Paul, but only for kinder and first grade. For second grade she moved to Chávez, thus becoming one of the first students of the brand-new school. 

“I started with Dr. H,” she said. “He was not a doctor back then, he was my teacher. A lot of my teachers are still working here.”

The excitement of being in a new school made the transition to Chávez smoother, Julie said. The school had no mascot and no emblem, and her entry was used to form the basis for the eventual school emblem. 

Among her most memorable experiences is a four-day field trip while in the fourth grade with Mr. Samuels that included Yosemite, Sacramento, and San Francisco, all part of a California history road trip.

“That year was full of field trips. Technology was not as evolved but I remember (Mr. Cisneros) was a technology pioneer,” Julie said. 

The older Mejia Cardona sisters attended El Sausal after promoting from sixth grade, and Julie, once again, played the role of pioneer at the brand new La Paz Middle School. 

At Alisal High, Jacqueline signed up for the ROP program and was part of the Health Academy. At first she was thinking about becoming a doctor, but that did not quite work out the way she originally expected. Then, through Mini-Corps she began teaching at the elementary level while enrolled in Liberal Studies at Cal State University Monterey Bay. Upon graduating 16 years ago, she began teaching fifth grade at Chávez. 

“Eventually, once you’ve been teaching so many years, you get the siblings of the first students you had,” Jacqueline said. “You remember when the mom was pregnant, and now you’re getting the young ones. I’m told ‘you had my cousin.’ Now my students have kids and they bring them to kindergarten and they’re showing me their babies. I used to be the new one and now I’m one of the veterans.”

Jeannette’s story is similar to her older sister. She signed up for the ROP Health Academy in high school, but she did not enjoy the medical field so she transitioned to child care ROP where she realized she liked working with children.

But getting a job at Alisal USD was not as easy for Jeannette as it was for Jacqueline. She did not pass the exams that were required to enter the credential program, so she began her career at the Monterey County Office of Education as an instructional aide. Then she became a special education teacher, but she wanted to work at Alisal. She was hired as a second grade teacher at Frank Paul, and then she got laid off. A year later she was hired back. Of her 14 years in education, Jeannette has spent 10 at Alisal. 

 “I felt more welcome” here, she said. “In the county I was going everywhere: Pacific Grove, Soledad, I was able to explore and there’s nothing like Alisal, honestly.” 

 Julie is quick to admit that she was following on her sisters’ footsteps when she joined the education path. 

“Back when I was a student, my teachers would ask me to do peer tutoring, and I guess I started developing that way, realizing that I liked helping out my classmates. When I was a freshman in high school, Jacqueline was already working, and after school I’d go help her, so she was a big influence.”

Julie began her teaching career at Alisal as a sixth grade teacher. Now in her eighth year, her first cohort of students are now freshmen in college. Like her sisters, she enjoys receiving the same families over and over again. 

“Some of my previous students have younger siblings which I’ve also taught, so you’ll see them again during their siblings’ promotion and it’s a rewarding piece of it all,” she said. 

That sense of community the sisters get at each of their schools permeates throughout the district and makes them want to stay here, Jacqueline said. 

“Even though we’re at different sites, it’s just working together, having the same colleagues, and having a sense of working for our kids really means a lot. That keeps us here at Alisal,” she said.

For them, part of remaining in Alisal comes from a desire to change its reputation. Growing up here a belief permeated the area that staying meant stagnating, and they want to change that. 

“We came back to show people they were wrong, and that’s why we want to advocate for our students,” Jeannette said. “We’re telling them, ‘You’re in charge of your future, don’t let anybody tell you it’s not possible. It’s not easy, but don’t let people judge you because you live on the east side. We’re examples, you can do it too.”

As the children of an agricultural worker -- their father still works in a mushroom farm -- the Mejia Cardona sisters can better relate to their students’ families and appreciate how they push their children.

“It’s nice to see students’ parents during parent conferences. They show they’re valuing their students' education. Parents come in with strollers, they come off work with their field clothes and it shows they value their children’s education. It’s nice to see parents that have the same mentality as our parents, that education is their priority.” 

Note: This is the twenty-nineth installment of "Cultivated in Alisal: Homegrown Heroes," a first attempt at documenting and celebrating the history of Alisal Union School District. For more information and other profiles, click here. To submit your name to be profiled, or suggest somebody to be featured, click here.