Jose Luna easily could have given in to what other people thought of him or thought he should have been.
Mr. Luna, the Toledo Public Schools' coordinator of bilingual and related programs, said he struggled for a long time between what he wanted and settling for the easy way.
“I tell my students today, `If it's easy, it's not worth having,'” said Mr. Luna, whose post as Hispanic Outreach teacher was elevated to an administrative position during the summer. “You can go out and be a drug dealer, but that's not worth anything and where does that get you in the end?”
For the last 12 years, he has developed programs to assist Hispanic kids and their parents, some arriving recently to the country and speaking little, if any, English. For these families, few things come easily.
That's where Mr. Luna, 49, can relate because, he said, nothing has come particularly easy for him. Those lessons, he said, have been invaluable to his success and are the lessons he likes to share with his students, many Hispanic boys and girls hungry for role models and a starting point to their adult lives.
Mr. Luna grew up in Lubbock, Texas, part of a migrant farmworker family. He moved with his mother, Elena, four sisters, and a brother to Defiance when he was in the 10th grade after his father went to prison.
The family moved to Hamler, where Mr. Luna said he didn't find Patrick Henry High School to be very hospitable to his Mexican roots. Students would mock and make fun of him during his two years there.
“Not everyone, but many of the kids there, would speak to me in this fake Mexican accent,” Mr. Luna said. “One counselor told me to work at a factory and to forget about college work.”
After returning to Texas briefly and dropping out of college for the first time, he returned to the Defiance area to work at the General Motors plant.
His mother stressed education with all of her children. The plant job was a comfortable union job, but Mr. Luna said his mother's words encouraged him not to settle.
“She was the backbone of our family,” Mr. Luna said. “She was a feminist before the word existed. She told my sisters to go to school and they could be anything they wanted to be. All of my brothers and sisters have college degrees. That's not supposed to happen in a family like ours. We beat the odds because of her.”
Mr. Luna worked 15 years at GM while attending school part time at Bowling Green State University, earning his degree in comprehensive social studies in 1990.
“I went to school when I could afford it,” Mr. Luna said. “People used to laugh at me, attending school so long to get a degree. You got to have ganas [Spanish for desire]. I wanted to succeed.”
Mr. Luna's first teaching job was with the Catholic Diocese of Toledo but he was laid off after one year. He worked as a counselor at the East Center for Community Mental Health, which is now the Unison Behavioral Health Group. During that time, he worked as a long-term substitute teacher at Scott High School.
Mr. Luna said it was community activist Dolores Rodriguez who told him about the Hispanic Outreach position and encouraged him to apply.
“He has been an excellent role model,” said Dr. Sheila Austin, chief of staff to Dr. Eugene Sanders, superintendent of schools. “We've already called on him several times to help us in assisting families. His services have been invaluable.”
Mr. Luna, who will complete his master's in counseling at Siena Heights University in Adrian, Mich., in December, said working with children is the motivation that brings him to work every day.
“I'm amazed at where I am in life,” said Mr. Luna, who makes $45,990 in his position. “I tell students my family came to Ohio with $60. I can see the hurt in a kid's eyes. It may come out of rudeness or anger, but I can see that hurt and I think I can help.”
Dr. Austin said she believes Mr. Luna has the ability to affect children positively for years to come.
“My daughter-in-law is Hispanic, and I hope when my grandchildren grow up, they will have someone like Jose to look up to,” Dr. Austin said. “He has been a joy to work with and a plus for us.”