For Emilia Attlesey, 2012 is a bittersweet year. She is retiring from Sulphur Springs Independent School District after 14 years, the last 12 at the Early Childhood Learning Center. She won't, however, wait for the last day of the school year. Emilia is going to cut classes the last week, and for some very good reasons.
Growing up in a Spanish-speaking home, Emilia had a special concern for the many children who are starting to school unable to speak or understand English. This, and her love for children, made her a perfect match for the position she has held at ECLC.
Emilia was born in Charlotte, Texas, and was one of 11 children. She grew up in San Antonio where she and her husband, Joe, lived until 1992 when he retired after a heart attack and they moved to the Yantis area.
Joe is the son of Joe “Shelton” Attlesey, of the Shelton Brothers who started the jamboree in Reilly Springs.
“He had family that lives here and so, we decided to move here because it was more laid back,” she said. “And I needed him to rest more and not be in such a hurry all the time.
“His step-mama told him he could have a couple of acres if he wanted to move up this way, so we sold our house in San Antonio,” she said. “We talked to our children, they were all grown and the ones to go to college had already gone.”
After selling their home, Emilia and Joe built a house in Yantis. She found herself needing something to do.
“I told them, ‘I think I am going to start substituting,’” she said. “That's all I was going to do, substitute, and in 1996 I went ahead and put in my application.”
For Emilia, her first job as a substitute teacher in the Sulphur Springs ISD Head Start program was “wonderful.”
“When I came in the first time, I had somebody to assist me, and I had such a pleasurable day,” she said. “It really was. It was very pleasant, the children were great, the school was very nice, and everybody was very helpful.”
That first day as a substitute lasted through the school year in 1996 and was enough to whet Emilia's appetite.
“[Steve] Carter was at Douglas, and he called me and asked me if I would do a long-term sub, that it would be about six weeks,” she said. “I agreed. It was the beginning of the year, and he said it was for a person that would be out for a period of time. I worked in the self-contained class with Mrs. [Catherine] Fergurson. I was her assistant, and I worked that whole year.”
The following year Emilia continued to work in content mastery — but not really as a substitute or aide.
“Mr Carter talked me into staying full time,” she said. “He didn't want to let me go because he needed somebody and I had already gotten used to the class, the class had already gotten used to me and he asked me if I would stay the rest of the year and I said, 'Oh, my gosh, I'll have to think about it.' So, I agreed, I would stay the rest of the year.”
The following year she was back as an aide in content mastery. She says she really loved it.
“I love small groups and working with them one on one,” she said. “To me, that is an awesome job to try and help children one on one and not have a whole classroom. I think you feel like you are getting somewhere when they come back the next day and move on.”
Although she loved working the children in content mastery class, Emilia elected to go back as a substitute the next school year.
With that thought in mind, Emilia handed in her resignation and did not think she was going to come back full time. She subbed the next year, but was working quite a bit and felt she could go back and work full time.
“I looked to see what was open,” she said. “They had an opening at ECLC as an assistant in Head Start as a floating aide — they needed bilingual floating aides. I applied for that at the last minute and they hired me.”
Starting with two other aides, she had three different classrooms to be in at certain times every day, and the teacher would have specific things for the aides to do.
“I worked with Hispanic children, translating and getting them up to par with the other children,” she explained. “That was pretty neat, too.”
Working with Spanish-speaking students, however, presented a somewhat unusual obstacle.
“It was difficult for me at first, because my children all speak English. We always spoke English at home. With my family, before I got married, we did speak Spanish. My mother is solely Spanish-speaking, so that's all I was used to,” she said. “Once I got used to having the children in there, it was all English. When I first started trying to translate, I was almost having to relearn Spanish myself.”
The job proved “awesome” as well as enjoyable, taking her back to her roots and making her think of her language.
“You know, if you don't use it, you lose it,” she said. “It takes time to think of certain words because there are words in English that don't translate to Spanish.”
She started on the ECLC campus in 2000 and has been there for 12 years.
“And I love it,” she said with a big smile. “The 4-year-olds and the 3-year-olds, that is the group to work with. They are sweet, they don't have the attitudes that fifth graders have, they are just babies and they are lovely little children, they really are.”
With no children at home, at the end of the day, Emilia is able to leave her job at school and can go home to a “nice quiet home.”
Even then, for Emilia, there is no stress at school with the little children.
“They are very forgiving, very innocent and so truthful,” she says. “Sometimes they tell quite a bit. I think they are just like us, they want to get things off their chests, I guess, bu, they are sweet, sweet sweet. I really could not ask for a better group of kids than 3- and 4-year-olds.”
Now that Emilia is retiring, she looks back at her 14 years in Sulphur Springs, at both the high points and those not so high.
Starting with the young children at the beginning of the school year was the brightest spot for Emilia.
“We test them at the beginning of the school year and then test them in the spring and see just how much they have learned,” she said. “Three-year-olds and 4-year-olds absorb so much. I wish I had their brains — I forget everything now.”
That's part of the reason she’s decided to call it a career.
“I am already starting to fall apart,dddd and I don't what to fall on a child and hurt them.”
Also, as Emilia looked back over her 12 years at ECLC, there were some days that were tougher than others — especially at the start of the school year.
“They are so little and have never been away from mama, and when they cry, it makes me want to cry with them,” she said. “That is the lowest point, because you take them, you hold them and say, 'It's going to be OK sweetie, we will take care of you here, you are going to be safe here and you are going to go back home to mama.' But wait until naptime comes around. Oh, my word, then the crying really begins, and I know why. They feel like they are going to sleep here and are never going to see their parents. I think that is the case especially with Hispanics. Hispanics, generally do not have anybody but extended families taking care of their children, and we are strangers to them. There are some that don't speak English so they can't communicate and they think, 'Oh my gosh!' But you now what,? I was six-years old when I started school and I think I cried for two months.”
She cried at age 6 because her teachers spoke no Spanish and she spoke no English.
“It's terrifying and it's very traumatic for children,” she said. “I was 6, and these are 3-year-old little kids and some of them don't turn 3 until after they start school, I mean they have just learned how to walk and have just been potty trained – some of them still have accidents, those are low points. I want to hold them, tell them it's going to be OK and speak to them in Spanish because that's more comforting.”
Emilia is going to leave her post a week before the end of school for a very special reason that has to do with children and education.
“My oldest granddaughter is graduating from high school in Colorado Springs,” the proud grandmother said. “I think she is in the top 10 percent of her graduating class and I had promised her we would go to her graduation.”
Emilia and Joe plan to spend a couple of weeks in Colorado before coming back to Texas and help care for her mother in San Antonio.
They will also visit with their other children, another daughter who lives in Mount Vernon and a son living in Houston.
Emilia and her husband also raised a grandson, Emilio Zamora, who lives in Sulphur Springs and has a baby on the way.
“It's going to be here on July 28,” she said. “Emilio said, 'You are going to be here on his birth, aren't you?' and I said I will be there.”
This will be Emilia's second great-grandchild and she also has nine grandchildren.
“So, I love it,” she smiled. “I've got people to see and the family here too. My husband's family is here. So, yes, I will be just hopping around here.”
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