By Paul Myers @PaulM_SGN
LINDSAY – It is no secret Lindsay’s population struggles with poverty. But it might not be well known some people are trying to fix that from the inside. At least thwarting poverty and changing culture is the mission of Lindsay’s 2017 Man of the Year award winner Adrian Gutierrez.
The 38-year-old Orange Cove native has spent 14 years in education, and 10 of those with Lindsay Unified. Albeit he has his administrative credential along with his Masters in education from Fresno State, Gutierrez says he’s more comfortable in the classroom. In fact he has turned down opportunities to move up in the ranks at other districts because, as he puts it, his heart is in Lindsay.
Gutierrez believes the way for Lindsay to change is for its students to leave, get their education, and then come back and contribute to their community. His role at Lindsay High School as an Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) counselor puts him in the middle of bringing his philosophy to fruition.
“I truly believe the only ticket out of poverty is a college degree,” Gutierrez said. “One of the greatest rewards is to see one your students come back.”
Gutierrez has worked with a decade’s worth of Lindsay graduates and he says his mission has been to get them into a four year university. He has been able to push the needle in that direction by making himself available. As an AVID counselor he helps students and their families work their way through the steps of getting to college. That includes helping students apply, seeking grants and scholarships and even meeting with parents who are fearful of sending their student out of the area.
Gutierrez says when families send their first ever student to college they are in uncharted waters. In order to help them figure out college tuition, housing arrangements and scholarships, Gutierrez has held some workshops to benefit parents who are trying to help their student succeed. And his work appears to be making an impact.
He said one of his former students Maddie Caesar was hard working and fortunate enough to earn a Smitt Camp Honors Scholarship at Fresno State for her entire undergraduate career. Her family will not have to pay a dime for four years. Other success stories include one student who is now attending dental school in northern California, another who has started teaching abroad in Spain, and one of his former students who is currently an elementary school teacher in Lindsay. He says it is nice to see the cycle begin.
The reasons why Gutierrez has been so successful is because for him it is not just on the student to learn, education comes down to students, teachers and parents. And his success has largely hinged on bridging the gap between those three things.
“Creating expectations and goals we get all stakeholders on the same page. That way kids can dream and feel support from all angles,” Gutierrez said.
He admits as well that connecting with students comes easy because of his background. Gutierrez is one of seven kids in his family, and is the only one to graduate from college. His parents did not know what they were getting into and did not know how to direct him either. He was eventually able to figure it out and got his undergraduate degree in 2002 from St. Johns College in Camarilla, Calif.
Of course Gutierrez does not believe education is just an academic endeavor, instead he believes there are many sides to education. That is why he has taken students to work at the Visalia Rescue Mission to serve the less fortunate, sell papers for Kids Day provided by the Fresno Bee and help with Thanksgiving food drives.
“I try my very best to find opportunities where they can do community work and teach them about compassion,” Gutierrez said.
But his community service extends beyond Tulare County. Two years ago he and a group of 25 students raised money for a trip to Costa Rica. While there they donated books and school supplies to local elementary schools. Gutierrez jokes about how students got a lesson in exchange rates. He explained to them that they didn’t all of a sudden become rich because 10,000 Costa Rican Colon is one dollar American. He laughed as he recalled them being a little let down.