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March 13, 2018
Authentic: Sonia Vazquez
“I do what I do because I love my community,” says Sonia Vazquez, Principal of Donegan Elementary School.
Sonia was born and raised two blocks away from Donegan, and has lived in Bethlehem her entire life. Both of her parents moved here from Puerto Rico, and her father was a steelworker for many years.
After getting her degree in special education from East Stroudsburg University, Sonia came back to work in Bethlehem—first at Broughal and Northeast Middle Schools, and then Freemansburg Elementary, where she first took a principal’s position.
“I was there about 6 years and everything was going great,” she says. But having grown up on the South Side near Donegan Elementary, Sonia knew the school and felt drawn back to the neighborhood. Out of all the elementary schools, it was struggling the most. “I asked the superintendent to let me come to Donegan.”
Sonia got to work, creating leadership programs starting with 5th grade and working backwards; giving students jobs helping to manage the school, and meaningfully share in that responsibility. She implemented a successful after-school program, brought yoga and mindfulness to the classroom, and infused the school community with a vibrant sense of respect that you see and feel the minute you step through the doors into the brightly-lit, art-filled lobby—ultimately transforming the school in more ways than can be listed in one short article.
But she won’t take all the credit. “I’ve surrounded myself with like-minded people,” Sonia says. “And my staff is like no other. The parents are on board with me, too, so we’re all working together.”
Although Sonia is admittedly nearing the end of her career as a school principal, she doesn’t really see it ending, even if she’s not completely sure what the next phase will be. “I know it’s going to be somewhere working with kids and the community at some level,” she says.
Powered by a passion to give back, Sonia Vazquez is unlikely to slow down anytime