By Maria Yolisma Garcia, Social Media Intern
Photography by Jessica Paramo, Internal Agency Project Manager
This is part of the Latina spotlight series, in which Dieste seeks to highlight the positive change and impact everyday Latina leaders are making in the U.S. In this edition, we meet Nancy Bernardino-Lira, principal of Solar Preparatory.
It’s the story about us, you and me. The story about a place where opportunities are hard to find. But most importantly, it is the story of a person who worked hard to seize every opportunity that came her way.
The education sector, while it is growing in both size and innovation, still stands behind creating spaces for women in leadership and STEAM (Science Technology Engineering Arts and Math). Nancy Bernardino saw this gap and utilized her education as a platform to not only advocate for access but provide opportunities.
As a young girl growing up in East Dallas, Nancy Bernardino was raised with a positive message about obtaining her education, “my parents always instilled in us to go out and get an education and what it lead to was being able to navigate the [education] system.”
It was then that Bernardino saw a greater side to the education system and the available space for opportunity that lay ahead.
She is a first generation Texan and mother of four boys, the word trailblazer doesn’t even begin to shed light into her story. For Bernardino, earning her PhD meant representation. There are a lot of young hopefuls who look up to Bernardino, and earning her PhD means that they can do it too. “You can be a mother of 4 boys, you can grow up in a household that makes less than $18,000 a year, you can pursue an education and help others and in the end be called Dr. Bernardino,” she states.
Her dedication to education began in the halls of The Hockaday school and prompted her to obtain two bachelor’s degrees, two masters and went on to serve as principal of John Quincy Adams Elementary. During her principalship, she was posed with a question, “if you could open up the school of your dreams what would it look like?”
“We noticed a trend that by the 5th grade Latina students were losing their voice. A lot of if had to do with culture and just being really quiet,” said Bernardino. She saw herself in many of those students and ignited the idea to open an all-girl STEAM preparatory that would allow young girls to grow in an environment that empowers them. The idea brought together a team that made it happen and in August of 2016 Solar Preparatory opened its doors.
Bernardino stepped into the building on the first day with the inaugural class of girls who would be joining her in this journey to not only transform lives but empower them to carry out their full potential. She hopes that in the future they can “advocate for other girls who didn’t get the same opportunity and cheer them on in an environment like Solar.” There’s no question that Solar Preparatory will leave an impression on the community, but also on the countless students it serves.
Getting to know Nancy Bernardino
She was born in a small town named Santo Domingo located in the municipality of San Felipe, Guanajuato, Mexico. Her mother brought her to the United States when she was only a year old. Her family grew up in Old East Dallas where she fully immersed herself in her educational journey.
One piece of advice you would tell your 17 year old self:
Go study abroad, because that was an opportunity that we had in Hockaday. At the time I was too scared to do it and didn’t, and at the time I would have just said, “pack your bags and just go,” and that’s the piece of advice I give to every college kid.
What does success mean to you?
Service. If you’re successful as an individual it’s about what you do with that success, whether that is serving others to be their advocate or empowering them to become their own advocate.
In one word, how would you describe failure?
Opportunity. It’s the opportunity to learn from it and pick yourself up and try at it again. We try to to instill in our boys “Bernardinos never give up,” failure is a part of reaching success. We just have to have the courage to get back up and keep going.
What was a big piece of advice that you kept from mentors?
I take away from some of my biggest mentors, my parents. My mom always told me, if you’re not educated enough to come in and greet somebody and talk to them, then don’t talk to me about any degree you may have. You have to be educated enough so no one will look down on you but more educated so you never look down on people.
Maria is a Mexican student at the University of Texas at Arlington, stationary enthusiast and music junkie. She is an amateur calligrapher and extreme mini-van driver.
Jessica a Texi-can and self proclaimed pop-culture guru loves to watch her Cowboys play with her fiancé Rufino, their daughter Vida and their beloved black lab, Patty.