2022 Massachusetts Teacher of the Year Marta Garcia ’14G and her daughter Claudia Pueyo ’22 are proud to call themselves Vikings.
Marta García moved to Salem in 2006 as part of a three-year visiting teaching exchange program. She had previously completed a similar program in Los Angeles—this time she brought her husband Javier and two young daughters Claudia and Jimena along on the adventure. The plan was to expand the young ones’ horizons, help them learn English and spend time together as a family before returning to their native Spain.
“We encountered an amazing and diverse community of immigrants from Europe and Latin America living in the North Shore,” Marta says. “The group would have big parties and get-togethers that highlighted local foods from everyone’s home countries.” The House of Seven Gables was an important touchpoint; their preschool program helped Jimena practice her English and introduced Marta and Javier to new friends. “The town and the people that we came to know were very family-oriented,” Marta explains, “and that encouraged us to stay in Salem.”
Only six years old at the time, Claudia has fewer memories of the move. “I didn’t fully appreciate how big a change it was,” she recalls. “It began to dawn on me over time like a delayed culture shock—but the hands-on nature of learning in the US was so much more aligned with my learning style. I grew to be very grateful for our new community.”
Hitting their stride
Marta only had a temporary waiver to teach in Massachusetts. To secure her long-term credentials, she enrolled in Salem State’s Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) English to speakers of other languages program. “It was immediately clear to me how embedded the university is in the life of the North Shore,” she says. “This is a place that belongs to the community, gives to the community and receives from the community.”
Marta was also impressed by the Salem State curriculum and the colleagues she encountered in the classroom. “The level of intellectual discourse was extremely high, including around topics like how we teach new languages and relate to students from different backgrounds,” Marta says. “A lot of what we discussed addressed issues of social justice. I know how important it is for my identity to speak my native language, so I can empathize with students who want to preserve that part of themselves even as they embrace a new culture and language.”
While Marta taught English-language learners in Salem Public Schools and attended courses at Salem State, Claudia was also hitting her stride: “It was great to have classmates who also spoke Spanish—even if we had different accents,” Claudia says. “When I reached high school, I felt like I was living the American dream: playing sports, in the band, hanging with friends.” Claudia followed in her mother’s footsteps when she chose to attend Salem State to earn her nursing degree—a decision based on familiarity, proximity and a deep appreciation for the university’s commitment to social justice.
Breaking down barriers
However, the immigration process moves slowly. Even as the family became more deeply embedded in the community, they remained aware that their experience was different from those around them. For Claudia, this sometimes manifested in very tangible ways. She says, “For example, when I was applying to college, I wasn’t able to apply for federal financial aid. I’m proud to say I paid off college by myself, and that would not have been possible without the help of Salem State donor-supported scholarships. But when these kinds of things came up, there was almost a specter in the back of my mind saying ‘Oh, there are still some struggles that other people aren’t facing.’”
“We’ve dealt with issues related to immigration for so long,” says Marta, “but we also came with a certain level of privilege. I can empathize with the challenges that other immigrants are facing—and I’ve made it my mission to advocate for them. When you see that the system is preventing people from becoming who they want to become, it makes you wonder why things are like this and what you can do to change it.”
She approaches her teaching with that same commitment to empathy and equity—and her students and colleagues appreciate it deeply. What’s more, they aren’t the only ones who noticed. In 2022, Marta was named the Massachusetts Teacher of the Year in recognition of her work as a multilingual educator at Witchcraft Heights Elementary School. “The experience of receiving the award was amazing,” Marta says, “and I’m so happy to be able to say that a Salem State alum was the one to get it. This is another way to give back and celebrate the university.”
After earning her degree, Claudia began her career as a nurse working on a pulmonary rehab floor at Franciscan Children’s Hospital in Brighton—the same institution where she completed her clinical placement as a student. The connections she made during her time at the university helped her transition directly into the working world.
Alumni like Marta and Claudia demonstrate the unique role that Salem State plays in the North Shore. Welcoming students of all backgrounds and preparing them to make a meaningful difference in the lives of others. Passing on a legacy of learning from one generation to the next. Discovering a place to be yourself—and to be surrounded by others who respect and celebrate who you are. And finding your home.