WACO, TX — Two Hispanic women within Waco ISD are using their heritage to inspire younger generations to succeed and embrace their culture.
Within the walls of Parkdale Elementary, you'll find principal Lena Ortiz.
"I've been successful in education because I can relate to our students," she said.
Ortiz is a first generation college graduate and came from a family of migrant workers. Growing up with a single mother, she helped her family in the fields. She says it taught her lessons you can't learn in a book.
"My mom really instilled in us you've got to go to school if you want something to change in your life, and that's through education," said Ortiz.
Thirteen years ago, Ortiz started as a teacher at Waco ISD and has worked her way to the role of principal.
She is now showing young children that anyone can be a leader and encouraging other people of diverse backgrounds to apply to work in schools.
"I think it helps that our students see an individual that looks like them, that speaks like them and shares those same experiences," said Ortiz.
Down the road at Crestview Elementary, Principal Samantha Craytor is celebrating her diverse student body.
"And that's what we want students to know, we see you and we accept you and you're a part of our school family," she said.
Craytor, also a first-generation college graduate with Mexican heritage, has instilled a culture of belonging in order to be inclusive for students and their families.
"Just making everyone feel welcome. I think the respect is reciprocated. We show respect to our families, and families show respect to us," she explained.
That respect allows Crestview to host cultural events like its annual tamale contest for families to show of their cooking, and for others to experience a bite of Hispanic culture. This year the tamale contest was a drive-thru setting.
"This community, you see a lot of Hispanic leaders, and we've all had a different journey and ultimately, we're here to inspire students and make a way for them," said Ortiz.
As of the 2020-2021 school year, there are 14,567 students within the district. Data shows that 60.95% are Hispanic/Latino, 27.84% are Black/African American, 8.54% are White, and 2.67% are other.
Waco ISD officials say the district is making effort for its staff to be reflective of the diversity of the community.