Our staff is as diverse as the populations we serve. Check out why Maria is so passionate about her role at Raising A Reader MA.
The profound impact and success that Raising A Reader MA (RAR-MA) has had over the years would not be possible without the drive and passion that Maria Mombeleur brings to the job every single day. Maria is a Senior Program Manager, responsible for bringing all of RAR-MA’s programs to families of Brockton, Taunton, Plymouth and Newton, as well as playing a major role in our program strategy. By partnering with community centers and programs, like the Barrett Russell Early Childhood Center, Maria is able to train parents on reading strategies to engage their children and deliver the Red Bag Book rotational program.
Maria can trace her passion for the RAR-MA mission back to her childhood, immigrating to America from Cape Verde with her family when she was 8. Cape Verde is a small, archipelagic country off the northwest coast of Africa–Maria is from the island Fogo. Due to the geography of the country, children in Cape Verde attended lower school on the islands on which they resided until fourth grade. After that, children had the option to enroll in a homestay education program, where they would be hosted by families near the larger schools.
Since Maria’s elementary years on Fogo, the country has made the process of finishing high school much simpler and encourages students to attend the university in the capital, Praia.
Maria fondly recalls her younger days in Cape Verde, but was excited at the prospect of moving to America. From what she heard from her grandfather, America was “no dirt, all flowers, and money everywhere.” For her parents, it was about providing her and her sister with a great education and the opportunities that would follow.
Cape Verdean culture does not emphasize early literacy and many of Maria’s relatives did not go through the education system. Before entering school, children are taught about etiquette and manners, among several other things. While she was exposed to books (O Beto joga bola, one of her Cape Verdean favorites), she now notes this lack of knowledge about literacy in the Cape Verdean culture as one of the reasons she is so passionate about her work.
Upon arrival in Brockton, which is home to the most Cape Verdeans in the United State, Maria was entered into the bilingual program at the then Gilmore Elementary School. At home she spoke Cape Verdean Creole (a Portuguese slang particular to the island country), and at school she was speaking both Portuguese and learning English.
Right away, her first teacher Nory Harris noticed Maria’s spark. Before she was even fluent in English, Maria exhibited drive, determination and a love of learning. Mrs. Harris took a special interest in Maria and helped her channel this energy. Through after-school and lunchtime homework and learning sessions, Mrs. Harris helped transform Maria into a high-performing, English speaking student by the time she entered seventh grade at the monolingual middle school.
Maria recalls the hard work both she and Mrs. Harris put into her schoolwork. She realizes the impact that early literacy and school readiness can have on children’s lives, particularly in communities like Brockton with large immigrant and low-income families, as a result of her personal experience and her work with Mrs. Harris.
Perhaps the best part of Maria’s story is that after joining RAR-MA, she initiated the partnership the organization now has with the Gilmore School. She works regularly with Mrs. Harris, who is still teaching and changing the lives of children in Brockton.
“When I first walked into work, the school still had the same smell as back in 1996,” Maria says about her reentry into the Gilmore School.
Maria beams when speaking of her full circle impact on the community where she grew up, and where she now chooses to raise her children. She says she is most proud of her work when she sees families that continue to come to workshops, eager to learn and perfect the RAR-MA interactive reading techniques.
Thanks to Maria’s hard work, along with the rest of the RAR-MA Program Managers, the organization is able to reach children in high needs communities across the Commonwealth and share a love of reading.