Faces of CNUSD: Vanessa Garcia

Orange Grove High School security guard, Vanessa Garcia.
Orange Grove High School security guard, Vanessa Garcia.
Orange Grove High School security guard, Vanessa Garcia.
Orange Grove High School security guard, Vanessa Garcia.
Orange Grove High School security guard, Vanessa Garcia.

 At Orange Grove High School (OGHS), Vanessa Garcia, a dedicated security guard, exemplifies unwavering commitment to her students.  

If they need anything, we don’t care what it is, we’re going to help them in any way, shape, or form,” said Vanessa. 

Vanessa, a Corona-Norco Unified School District (CNUSD) and Orange Grove Alumni, has made a lasting impact on the lives of the students she sees every day. Her authenticity, supportiveness, and inspirational attitude has helped shape her student's life in unimaginable ways. That’s why when asked about an employee who has made and continues to make a positive impact in their community, Principal Carlos Guillen and Assistant Principal, Rogelio Padilla didn’t hesitate in naming Vanessa as the person who fits that role.  

Vanessa has been a part of the Corona community for most of her life, graduating from Orange Grove in 2014 and soon thereafter began working for the District as a custodial and clerical substitute. After a brief hiatus, Sandra, an OGHS security guard at the time, encouraged Vanessa to return to Orange Grove and rejoin the community. Sandra played a pivotal role in Vanessa’s life when she was a student at Orange Grove, quickly taking her under her mentorship and guidance. At the time, Vanessa was dealing with personal struggles at home that significantly affected her academic performance.  

“I didn’t want to be in school...my life at home was a mess. My mom was a drug addict all my life up until four months ago...I spiraled for a little bit my freshman year,” said Vanessa. 

 During this time, Sandra became the mentor Vanessa needed to navigate high school, altering the trajectory of her life and providing the encouragement and motivation she needed to succeed academically, never letting her give up. 

“She was like a second mom to me. She’s probably the only reason why I came to school and graduated to be honest...there were some days where I didn’t even know where I was going to sleep that night, but I knew I had to come to school for her,” said Vanessa. 

Unfortunately, in 2021, Sandra passed away. Following in Sandra’s footsteps, Vanessa became a permanent security guard, filling the security guard position at Orange Grove. She knew going into it, she was taking on a very big role and filling big shoes. Very quickly, Vanessa fell in love with the job, the school culture, and the Orange Grove students. 

One of the qualities that makes Vanessa stand out is that she is able to connect with the students on a different level. Drawing from her own experiences and growing up in a similar environment as some of her students, Vanessa can empathize with their situations and connect with them on a deeper level, fostering trust and understanding. She explains how something as small as a greeting on the first day can help open a channel to connect with her students. When a new student arrives on campus, Vanessa always takes the time to get to know them and ask about their story. She lets them know whatever circumstances they are facing, she is there to help them overcome those obstacles. In instances where students may need a moment to process emotions, they know they can step out to talk to Vanessa because she is always there to help work through situations they are facing. 

 “I want to be the person that Sandra was for me...and I feel like I have been,” said Vanessa. 

One aspect of Orange Grove’s culture that distinguishes it is its smaller and more private environment. In the smaller school environment, students receive individualized attention and guidance they need to succeed. Vanessa recalls when she was first sent to Orange Grove in her sophomore year and how the school culture and staff played the most important role in changing the views and mindset she had towards school. They took the time to delve deeper into understanding why she was lashing out and asked, ‘where this is all coming from’?  

After identifying that she was dealing with issues at home, they helped her in finding ways to stay motivated to come to school and explored potential ways to improve her home situation. 

Vanessa shared an encounter with a student who had lost interest in school and begun skipping classes. Being the attentive person she is, Vanessa engaged the student in a heartfelt conversation, determined to prevent him from dropping out. 

“I tell them, ‘Look, if you’re not going to do it for anybody else do it for yourself, you owe yourself that, you’ve been in school this long, make it count, make it worth it, get that diploma for yourself,” she said. 

The next day, the student approached Vanessa and told her he had gone with the intention of dropping out the day prior, and if it wasn’t for her words of encouragement, he would’ve done it. That student eventually ended up graduating early, earning that diploma for himself.  

“Having those little deep talks are so important because that’s how those connections are made,” said Vanessa.   

While Vanessa has a profound dedication and commitment to her role, she shares one of the hardest jobs of her job is learning to leave everything at the door, especially considering her most important role is being a mom to her two kids. 

“Sometimes I go home and worry about my students, are they going to have somewhere to sleep, something to eat, are they staying off the streets,” said Vanessa.   

Vanessa understands the challenges of growing up in difficult circumstances, where having absent parents is common and substance use can be a part of daily life. She shared that she sees a lot of her younger self in her students, and she provides them with the affirmation and reassurance she needed at their age. She even goes as far as helping them with job searches after they’ve graduated and finding ways to support them in managing their behavior.  

“I tell them You’re going to be someone one day, you matter...don’t give up because it’s all going to be worth it.... it’s not going to be easy but it’s going to be worth it,” she said.  

While this understanding allows her to establish strong bonds with her students, it also amplifies the concern and worry she feels. That’s why she explains that her “kids, as she calls them, are her inspiration for coming to work every day. The dedication she shows in ensuring her students don’t fall behind, avoiding bad habits, and breaking generational cycles is evident in the love and gratitude they show her.  

“I get told by them, if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have graduated and that’s what fulfills me,” said Vanessa.  

Working in alternative education instills a distinctive purpose and significance to the role Vanessa plays at Orange Grove. When asked about what advice she would give to someone who is considering working in Alternative Education she shared that it’s important to have a strong backbone. 

“This school is not for everybody, especially because we’re so small, the students cling to us,” said Vanessa.  

However, she emphasizes that as you begin to learn more about the students’ lives and witness their willingness to share about themselves, you feel a strong desire to be there for them and actively support them.  

At Orange Grove High School, Vanessa’s impact is felt in every hallway and classroom, her compassion and commitment inspire scholars each and every day. Her influence continues to shape the lives of students she cares for so deeply.