Elva Morales, center, discusses lessons with her ESL students recently. Morales is one of five recipients of the 2011 Outstanding Alumni Awards for the American Association of Community Colleges. She is also only one of three Kansans who has received this award. Courtesy photo
• Special to the Leader & Times
High school dropout to college graduate – elementary school teacher to national Teacher of the Year – Citizenship instructor to outstanding alumni.
Her path has been varied, but Elva Morales is deserving of her latest award as one of five recipients of the 2011 Outstanding Alumni Awards for the American Association of Community Colleges.
Morales, who works for USD No. 480 and Seward County Community College/Area Technical School, was nominated by Dr. Duane Dunn, SCCC/ATS president. He has said that she is also only one of three Kansans who has received this award.
Born in Guanajuato, Mexico, Morales was raised in Deerfield. Her parents struggled with the English language, which was something that had a great impact on her. Even then, she recognized the need to learn the English language in this new country. As a sophomore, she dropped out of high school to work at a beef-packing plant to help her family. She has said she loved the money and gave little thought to finishing high school.
When she moved to Liberal in 1973, she worked for National Beef for 17 years, until a doctor told her she needed to find something else to do with her life. She said she was devastated since that was all she knew.
One thing she was most proud of was her decision to go back to school. At the time, the adult learning center where she could get her GED, was located on the main SCCC campus.
“The large campus was very frightening,” she said. “It took me several times to even enter the building.”
When she finally got up enough nerve to apply for her GED, she never stopped until she received her associate’s degree from SCCC, her bachelor’s degree from St. Mary’s of the Plains, and her ESL certification from Fort Hays State University.
She is presently working on her master’s.
It wasn’t an easy time for her because by this time, she was married and had a child, Justin, who now is assistant director at the Colvin Adult Learning Center. However, her child made her more determined than ever to find success. He would travel with her to Dodge City and sit outside the classroom while her mother was in class. She was doing this as much for herself as for her family.
Not only has she devoted her life to helping educate children, she is also committed to individuals seeking their citizenship through the SCCC/ATS Colvin Adult Learning Center.
While working with children, she realized that many of the parents had their children miss class so they could translate for them. Elva began helping her students assimilate into their new community. In the past 20 years, she has helped more than 2,000 students obtain their U.S. citizenship. She has also moved from teacher to instructional coach at Washington Elementary.
In 2000, she was selected as Teacher of the Year by Nordstrom Department Stores and Hispanic magazine. She was chosen by a national panel of six judges, consisting of civic leaders, educators, and representatives from both Nordstrom and Hispanic Magazine following review of more than 70 applicants from across the nation.
Morales has served on state committees, including the Kansas Board of Regents’ division of adult education committee to review the adult basic education curriculum.
She also serves on several local committees including USD 480 curriculum council, USD 480 measures of academic progress, USD 480 Leadership committee, Washington Elementary Booster Club, St. Anthony Catholic Church and IOR Global services destination assistance counselor.
Being a major part of the community, Elva has been asked to speak to civic organizations, elementary and middle school students, as well as seminars and workshops related to adult literacy and Hispanic leadership.
In 2007, Morales was selected to serve on the United States Department of Homeland Security National Immigration Service’s taskforce to review and improve the U.S. examination of citizenship. She is the only representative for community colleges on the task force and the only individual from a rural community.
In the words of one of her many students, Flor Franz, “She is a great teacher who has a lot of dedication and love toward teaching and preparing all of those people that are willing to get ahead in life. Whether we know how to speak English or not, she motivates us into not giving up.”