Trading Grapes for Apples

Magalli Acosta’s Journey from Farm Laborer to High School Teacher

Magalli Acosta
From humble origins, one of Paloma Valley High School’s newest teachers aims to make a difference in the lives of her students. Ms. Magalli Acosta’s first job ever was picking grapes in the fields of the Coachella Valley at age 15. Now at only 23 years old, she has completed her first month on the job as a high school Spanish teacher. Like any new teacher, Magalli works long hours planning, teaching, and grading; but as you might expect, Ms. Acosta is no stranger to hard work. Her parents, now in their fifties, still work as agricultural laborers in the Coachella Valley and live in the little town of Desert Shores. Her mother works in a nursery and her father works mostly in the grape fields specializing in the application of pesticides and herbicides.

Although Ms. Acosta worked with her family in the fields, she was also a motivated student. Magalli graduated from West Shores High School where she earned the honor of Salutatorian (traditionally bestowed on the second highest achieving student) of her graduating class of sixty students. When asked about who was the top student (the valedictorian), Magalli becomes animated, and displayed a competitive streak. “That was my cousin. I had a 4.3 gpa, but West Shores High School was small and didn’t offer as many AP courses as I would have liked.”

Quote from MagalliAcosta
Magalli applied and was accepted to the University of California at Riverside, leaving Desert Shores, population 1,104, for Riverside, population 316,619. Magalli received 11 separate scholarships throughout her college career which gave her a full-ride scholarship. While there, Ms. Acosta was part of the UCR Honors Program while earning both her bachelor’s degree and her teaching credential. Her scholarships also allowed her to study abroad for an entire year. She spent one semester in Spain and another semester in the western African nation of Ghana. This summer, just before beginning her work at Paloma Valley High School, Magalli travelled to China and taught English at the elementary school level. At only 23, Magalli clearly hasn’t missed a step in her well-executed plan to become an educator!

In a conversation about the value of experiencing truly hard work, Ms. Acosta shared her feelings that most students have lives where many things come too easily to them, such as a free education. Magalli also agreed that students would benefit from doing agricultural labor, as they would learn both the value of labor and gain an appreciation of what it takes to grow and bring food to the market.

However, Ms. Acosta worries about her family’s health, especially her father’s. She says her parents are healthy, but are now in their mid-50’s. Her father tells Magalli not to worry, but there is concern about the long-term effects of decades of extreme heat, back-breaking labor, and contact with pesticides.

By: Roberto Verzo
Going forward, Ms. Acosta is focused everyday to become the best teacher she can be. Like all new teachers, she knows she has much to learn and to accomplish in her career. Ms. Acosta explains what motivates her as an educator: “I have been working so hard to get to this point that now that I am here my focus is to continue to grow as an educator and impact the lives of those I work with. I want to be a role model and an inspiration to my students and ultimately my goal is to have a student return and say, ‘because of you I did not give up or with your help I was able to accomplish this.’ When that day comes, I know I will have accomplished one of my biggest goals in life. As a teacher, I know I will form part of those students’ success and that’s what makes this career so rewarding.”