CIS’ Eva Depaz works to support Virginia Cross students, inspire them to become lifelong learners

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SILER CITY — Because she’s born and raised in Siler City, Eva Depaz knows the county’s school system inside and out.

First, she was a student. Then she became a family services specialist and teaching assistant. Now she’s a student support specialist at Virginia Cross Elementary School for Communities In Schools of Chatham County, taking over the post from Jazmin Mendoza Sosa, who became CIS’ program director back in July.

This week, we spoke with Depaz about her role, the students she serves and what she hopes to achieve.

Tell us about yourself and your background.

My name is Eva Depaz. My dad is from Guatemala, and my mother is from Mexico. I was born and raised here in Siler City. So, Chatham County is pretty much all I know, which is why it fills me with pride to be able to serve it. I graduated from Jordan-Matthews High School in 2010. I have my associate’s degree in human services (from Central Carolina Community College) and I hope to soon be able to further my education as I have always been interested in the social work field. I have served the Chatham County community for about 10 years doing different types of roles. Currently, I am working for Communities In Schools, where I am the Student Support Specialist at Virginia Cross Elementary.

What did you do before coming to CIS-Chatham?

I worked at Pittsboro Elementary School as an instructional assistant for about six months, and prior to that, I worked at Telamon Head Start for about eight years. Telamon is a [nationwide] program that provides educational opportunities to children but also focuses on the family as a whole. I have to admit that both hold a special place in my heart because they have both opened doors for me and have helped me get to where I am today. I have met so many wonderful people from whom I have learned so much.

What are you passionate about? Why did you want to join CIS as a student support specialist?

Since I can remember, I have always wanted to grow up and help people; specifically, women and domestic violence related. My mother would always say I had a big heart! I was not quite sure who to help or how to do this, but as mentioned earlier, Pittsboro and Telamon hold a special spot because they both taught me the love for working with children and families. Working with children is definitely the most rewarding job I have done and the most impacting one. I have touched lives and have made a difference in them. When I heard of CIS, I was excited because it sounded very similar to my position at Telamon, but I also liked the fact that I could still do part of what I did at Pittsboro Elementary. It’s like I put Telamon and Pittsboro together.

What are your roles and responsibilities as a student support specialist? When did you officially start?

I started my CIS role on Aug. 2. As a Student Support Specialist, my responsibilities consist of providing individualized support to my students. I have the opportunity to empower students not only academically, but we also focus on the social-emotional aspect. Some students need that one-to-one level care and attention to motivate them to success. Aside from supporting my students, I also provide support and maintain an open communication with their parents. I assist VCE with other duties such as parent meetings, interpreting, being a part of committees, providing resources to families, participating in community events, and working closely with the school’s social worker and guidance counselors.

Tell us about the students and families you work with. What challenges do they face or have they overcome?

My caseload is currently 38, but I hope to reach 50 in the next month or so. All are students from VCE. I think the biggest challenge I see with families I am currently working with is the language barrier. Most of my families are from the Latino community. I have about five parents who are illiterate. Not being able to communicate in English is hard for them; not being able to read or write in their language makes it even harder. I communicate with these parents through an app called WhatsApp; I keep them up to date by sending voice audios. If they have any concerns or questions, they shoot me an audio, and I respond back that way. It has been a BIG help. It is easy for them to use and convenient for our work schedules.

What are the best and worst parts about the job so far?

I would have to say the best part is seeing my students grow — and building positive relationships with them and other students. I went to a birthday party a few weekends ago and upon arrival, I had a 1st grader give me a joyful welcoming. She called me by my name with a huge smile and I did not know who she was. She told me she went to VCE and that she sees me go into her classroom all the time!

I really don’t have a worst part yet; everyone has been so welcoming both at CIS and VCE. I have a very caring and supportive supervisor who has been with me pretty much every step of the way. The only thing I could consider on the negative side is the fact that this kind of job can be very unpredictable. It is very hard to plan things ahead because things have to be handled as they come to you or based on priority. But sometimes this is what keeps it interesting; there is never a “same day.”

What do you hope to achieve in your time with CIS as a student support specialist?

I want to create positive relationships with my students to better support them in the areas that are needed, provide that one-on-one support, and be that caring adult or safe spot when they need it. I want to motivate my students to always strive for the best just like I am always looking to better myself. I have only been in this role for about two and a half months, and I have already learned so much. I look forward to exploring my abilities, gaining more experiences, and creating many more memories to cherish throughout my career.

Anything else you think the community should know?

Education is crucial for a child’s life, but it is a teamwork project. We need parents/guardians as much as they need us! To have successful and productive human beings in the future, we need to create positive relationships with any students we come across. I’d like to share a quote that is very present in my mind: “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken adults.”

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