Finding home and happiness in Chicago
E4E-Chicago teacher Ann Dipaola shares with Outreach Director Erica Henry how immigrating to the United States from Argentina and moving around the country has shaped her education, career choices, and the kind of learning experiences she hopes to provide her students as a special education teacher in Chicago.
Erica Henry (EH): What was your experience was like growing up around the country?
Annie Dipaola (AD): I was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1995. When I was two months old, my family moved to Southern California, and I became a dual citizen in both Argentina and the United States. I believe both countries have shaped who I am today as a person and as a teacher.
When I turned five my father’s job moved us again to Iowa City. At 12 years old we then moved to Colorado, again due to my dad’s work. I was sad to leave all my childhood friends but Colorado was a great way for me to again experience a different part of the United States. Those moves taught me that I enjoy change, so I set my sights on Chicago for college.
EH: What made your family decide to immigrate to the United States?
AD: My parents met in California when my dad moved from Buenos Aires for a rock climbing instructor position. My mom was his boss and she followed him to Buenos Aires when he went back. My father explained that they chose to immigrate back to the United States when I was two months old so that they could provide my brother and me more life options. Although my parents loved Argentina, my father knew how difficult it is to grow up in South America. He had spent his life in a low-income household in the heart of Buenos Aires and admitted that he felt consistently pushed to make bad choices because of those circumstances. He wanted a different life for us. He, along with my mother, believed that by moving to the States they could provide my brother, Jose, and me with more resources than they could provide if we had stayed in Argentina.
EH: How did the decision to come to the United States impact or change your educational experiences?
AD: If I had stayed in Argentina my parents would have had to pay for a private school education, as the public schools are some of the most dangerous in the country. By coming to the U.S. I was able to stay in the public school system my whole life, allowing me to experience a rich diversity of people and opinions throughout my education. Additionally, moving from state to state helped me gain the confidence I needed to move to Chicago on my own. Joining DePaul University was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and I believe I would not have had the courage to choose Chicago if I hadn’t traveled growing up.
EH: Did you always want to be a teacher? What made you decide on this profession?
I chose to become a teacher my sophomore year of college. I was originally a business administration major, but after feeling unfulfilled with my first year of classes I was forced to reflect on what made me happy. I realized that in high school when I spent a summer as a counselor at Easter Seals Rocky Mountain Village in Empire, Colorado, I loved that I could support kids with disabilities for a week as they learned to ride horses, rock climb, and attend a prom, free of stigma or restrictions. That experience motivated me to change my major to special education. The more I learned about special education, the more I realized that there are so many different ways to teach. I realized it is the teacher’s responsibility to help each student succeed, whether it is differentiating an entire classroom structure or manipulating the environment to make sure students prosper.
EH: Have your first few months in the classroom influenced the way you view education?
AD: My first few months have allowed me to learn so much about special education. I have seven students, all of whom are at different levels of learning. The students range from verbal to nonverbal, low to high comprehension, and moderate to severe behavior. The amount of differentiation I have had to complete to prepare my classroom was extremely challenging but beneficial to the students. All students are able to learn and progress, but instructor approach is critical to that progression Every day I need multiple methods of teaching a topic to help students master different ways of learning and understanding concepts.
EH: What motivates you to continue in this work as a first year teacher?
AD: I am motivated daily by the reality that I have had the luxury of becoming a dual citizen at two months old, while others are fighting just to be accepted as a fellow citizen in the United States. I have been lucky enough to be provided with a wonderful and affordable education, while others do not have the option of pursuing a higher degree. I have been in classrooms where I did not feel ridiculed for my abilities and was never given up on by my teachers, while others struggle with daily tasks because of their disabilities. I remember every day that others are not given the same privileges I have been given and that they deserve the same chance to succeed.
EH: What gives you hope about the future of education?
AP: In my time as a student teacher and within the first few months of teaching I have seen phenomenal teachers who care immensely about their students. Teachers go above and beyond for their students, despite government cutbacks and larger class sizes. They push forward to ensure that their students succeed. I believe as long as we have teachers who care and have high expectations, students will be given the opportunities they deserve to prosper.