By L'Oreal Payton
September 18, 2020
Patty Diaz-Andrade began her career as an educator while she was still a student herself.
“One of my earliest memories of being a teacher was being a teacher to my younger brother, who’s five years younger than me,” she shares. “My dad had found this broken chalkboard in an alley as he was leaving work one day and that chalkboard became my chalkboard to teach my brother.”
As fate would have it, Diaz-Andrade would grow up to become a teacher. First teaching eighth grade humanities in the South Bronx and later at the Harlem Children’s Zone. Today she is the Chief Impact Officer for OneGoal, a national college access and success organization.
“I’ve always gravitated toward education and that being the thing I draw the most energy and passion from,” she notes. “From a social justice standpoint, education, for me, is the single most important lever for breaking the cycle of poverty. And I use education in its most encompassing form. That lever continues to be the most important one we can tackle in ensuring future generations have access to a more equitable world. That’s why I do this work.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
You began your career as a teacher, what led you to OneGoal?
I was pregnant with my first son, Noah, at the time and it was affirming that there were senior leaders who understood what it meant to be a professional and leader in the nonprofit space while also raising a family.
For me, I took that risk of becoming a new mom and new executive director at the same time because when I learned about the program, I remember thinking to myself how different my first year of college would have been if I’d had a teacher who’d been by my side and mentored me.
I did not attend a professor’s office hours until I was a junior in undergrad, because I believed asking for help would affirm to the folks at the university that I didn’t belong there when in actuality I was supposed to be asking for help. We need to ensure young people aren’t experiencing the same thing I experienced – this program has that potential.
Your team recently launched our new District Partnership Pilot. What most excites you about the work?
One of the things you hear often when you walk into a OneGoal classroom is students saying, “I wish every young person had access to this program.”
For me, the District Partnership Pilot holds the solution to that problem. If we figure this out, we can make it so that any young person in a high school has access to OneGoal. That’s what excites me — the opportunity and the potential to reach any young person in any part of the country, not just our existing regions or major cities where there’s philanthropy.
Why is it so important that we get this right?
It’s hard for me to answer that question and not think about my personal story. My parents emigrated to this country from El Salvador in the late ‘70s, that was around the time the civil wars in many Central American countries were being fought by U.S. and Soviet influence.
When my parents emigrated to this country, they had a very strong sense that education was going to be the biggest investment they would make in their children. That’s why they’ve supported me and my brother pursuing a postsecondary degree and have been resolute in that conviction. They’ve always understood that higher education offers an opportunity to dramatically change the trajectory of an individual, their future families, and even communities.
This work is so personal because it’s through my acquiring these postsecondary degrees that I’m able to hold this position, live where I live and have my kids experience a different educational process. So, I see the direct connection between postsecondary education and the life that comes with it and that opportunity needs to be available to everyone.
To learn more about the District Partnership Pilot and what it could mean for your school district, visit onegoalgraduation.org.