GREENSBORO, N.C. — This year’s theme for National Hispanic Heritage Month and a motto the superintendent of Guilford County Schools lives by every day is be proud of your past, and embrace the future.
“We’re here today because of the struggles of those who came before us, and if they can do it under much more difficult conditions, we can too,” said Dr. Sharon Contreras.
Before Dr. Contreras became an educator, she was a little girl taking the train with her siblings from Long Island, New York, to Harlem. She spent hours at the Schomburg Museum studying culture and history.
Dr. Contreras comes from a diverse background. She’s black and Latino.
“Back then in New York, they didn’t really acknowledge my father as Latino or Hispanic. They recognized him as white, and my mother said as she would push us in the carriages, they often thought she was the help,” Dr. Contreras recalled.
Her paternal grandfather was a coffee farmer in Venezuela. Her grandmother came from Puerto Rico. The superintendent never got a chance to meet them.
“My father’s parents died at the age of 29 and 34. Both died from a lack of childcare. My grandmother died from having triplets on the floor of her apartment,” Dr. Contreras explained.
The family’s struggles influenced her to become a teacher.
“I really believe that we have the power to transform the life outcomes of students,” Dr. Contreras said.
In 2016, she made history in Guilford County as the first female and Latina superintendent of schools.
“My family has come through so much for me to sit here, and I know I am their wildest dream. They never thought, but they’re probably smiling down right now like ‘look at my granddaughter,’” Dr. Contreras said.
Like her ancestors, Dr. Contreras is a fighter.
“I always say I am my mother’s daughter. I am my grandmother’s granddaughter. I am my father’s daughter, and that means a great deal to me. I can do anything because of them,” Dr. Contreras stated.
She spends time helping children trace their roots while sharing her story with them to help instill hope in their lives.
“I think that’s really helpful for young people to see in us who they are and who they can be one day. Having humanity. Having the skills to get a job, to take care of my family. That’s really important to me that they know that they are empowered to be who they want to be, become who they want to be,” said Dr. Contreras of her ultimate goal for Guilford County Schools.
She says it starts with having hope and knowing you can overcome anything.
Dr. Contreras has traveled to Venezuela and Puerto Rico to learn more about where her family is from.
She tells FOX8 she still keeps in touch with many of her former students. Hearing of their success keeps her going in her career.