Cecilia Orosco Avalos was a wife, mother, superb homemaker, educator, teacher, author and, according to her colleagues, she was "a visionary" when it came to early childhood education. 'Cecilia developed what I consider to be one of the finest early childhood programs in the United States,' said Wallis Downer Joyner, one of Cecilia's former teachers in the Tucson Unified School District's Parent and Child Education (PACE) program. 'The teachers were given excellent training in all areas of early childhood education Ì± cognitive creativity, mathematics, music, art.'
And she involved the parents. In fact, parent involvement was mandatory if a child was enrolled in PACE.
PACE, a Title I bilingual program, has been the TUSD answer to the federal Head Start program since its inception in 1971. Cecilia, who had been teaching primary grades in TUSD since graduating from college in 1943, was appointed director of Head Start when Tucson decided to launch the program. But after a year, she resigned, asking to return to the classroom. The program was flawed, she said. Children got their 'head start' but without continuing support at home their great beginning would evaporate in later years.
'If you resign, we'll have to drop Head Start,' TUSD said. She was adamant. Finally, the administration agreed but countered with a new request: Design your own program. Thus was born PACE, a program for 4-year-old children encompassing Cecilia's vision, her belief that parents are the first and most important teachers children have and that parents and teachers must work together to maximize a child's potential.
'Cecilia valued the parents' input and made a great effort to find out what they had to say, what they needed,' Wallis said. 'Parents were treated with great respect and dignity -- always.'
The program gained respect nationwide, and Cecilia and her staff often were asked to make presentations at conferences in different parts of the country.
In May 1996, in recognition of her efforts, friends and colleagues honored Cecilia at a 25th anniversary celebration of PACE. A scholarship program in her name was announced to help students who got their start in PACE go to college. In addition, Tucson Mayor George Miller presented her with a Copper Certificate of Appreciation on behalf of the city, citing her 'dedicated and untiring effort ÌÐ (and the) more than 25 years of giving your time, energy and spirit to the children of Tucson.'
Cecilia retired in May 1986, but retirement didn't dim her desire to help children. She began a new career, one that allowed her to keep on doing what she loved Ì± reaching out to children, trying to inspire them to learn. This time she did it through the stories she used to tell her students in the days when she taught Grade 1-C (children who couldn't speak English) in schools like Carrillo Elementary, where she taught for 10 years. Only this time, she wrote the stories down in Spanish and English so they could be used for bilingual education.
Cecilia, the youngest of eight, was born July 19, 1922, in Jerome, Arizona, to Juan Orosco, a miner, and Isabel Delgado Mayagoitia Orosco. She graduated from high school at age 15, and studied at what now is Northern Arizona University, graduating in 1943.
Cecilia received her master's degree in early childhood education from the UA. In 1950, she married Manuel Avalos, a Tucson native and one of the first Hispanics to receive a law degree from the UA. They had three children: Manuel Jr. and his wife, Candice Bredbenner, of Wilmington, N.C., Lisa and her husband, Jim Robbins, of Gilbert, Ariz., and Tina Avalos of Denver, Colo. She had two granddaughters: Elizabeth and Arianna Robbins.