Hispanic Heritage Month – Local principal mentors students, makes a difference

Christine June
415th Base Support Battalion

***image1***The Kaiserslautern American High School Principal Daniel J. Mendoza is the keynote speaker for the 415th Base Support Battalion’s “Making a difference in Our Communities and Our Nation” Hispanic Heritage Month Observance 11:30 a.m., Oct. 5 at the Armstrong Community Club, Vogelweh Housing.

“Mr. Mendoza was chosen for his achievement and representation of a successful Hispanic doing great things in our community,” said Sgt. 1st Class Sandra D. Short, the 415th BSB equal opportunity advisor. “He is well-known in the KMC, and he has a positive attitude and relations with people he works with, and the family members and students who attend the Kaiserslautern high school.”

As the only Hispanic principal in the Department of Defense Dependent Schools-Europe, Mr. Mendoza believes in the importance of mentoring and being a role model.

“I like being a mentor and a role model for some of our kids and parents,” said Mr. Mendoza. “I take every chance I can to speak with students about being a minority and what it takes to succeed.

“I tell them that nothing is given to you; you have to earn it,” he said. “A lot of my students think I have always been a principal and that I was born in an affluent neighborhood and my parents were well off and that I always had a good time.”

It’s the opposite said Mr. Mendoza, who grew up on the poor side of a town with a population of 5,000 in Lordsburg, N.M. Mr. Mendoza’s mentor was his father who was a prisoner of war during World War II. After the war, his father made sure his family was provided for by working as a mechanic.

“He had a great work ethnic, and he knew that his family was the paramount issue to him,” said Mr. Mendoza. “He also knew that education was the key to success, and he always drilled that into us.”

Mr. Mendoza never forgot the importance of education as a teacher, administrator, assistant principal, principal and parent. His 25-year-old daughter, Heidi, attended DODDS schools for 12 years and is currently getting her doctorate in virology, a study of diseases and cures, at the University of Saint Andrews in Scotland.
“I’m passing on to students the two important goals I learned from my dad’s mentorship program – the importance of reading and making academics a priority,” said Mr. Mendoza, the only one in his family to graduate from college. “My dad had us reading before we started school, and he made sure we were bilingual by the time we got to kindergarten or first grade.”

Mr. Mendoza knew he wanted to be a teacher when he was in the 10th grade tutoring non-English speaking kids at Jesuit High School in El Paso, Texas. After graduation, he joined the Air Force for four years. With his GI Bill, he loaded up on three majors at the University of El Paso and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Education in 1976.

He started working for DODDS in 1984 while he was on his last year of his master’s program. He returned to the Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas, and finished his master’s program in 1985.

“I love teaching. I love being in education. We make a difference,” said Mr. Mendoza. “I think we are the only profession where you can go back and remember who your first-grade teacher was. I’m 54 years old, and I still remember my first-grade teacher.”