Since she was recruited from the Philippines 27 years ago, Estrellita Perez Richter, a gifted and talented program teacher at Julius Dorsey Leadership Academy, has made Dallas ISD home.
Perez Richter came to the United States in 1995 to be a teacher as part of the district’s worldwide recruitment efforts of experienced teachers in response to teacher shortages here. She had been a teacher in the Philippines since 1978 and was teaching English as a second language to Chinese refugees—from 5 to 60 years old—before coming to Dallas.
Even though Perez Richter spoke fluent English when she emigrated to the United States—an important language in the Philippines—the transition was not easy. She faced the many challenges that immigrants face, such as finding themselves alone, but was able to make a connection with her students and family members. In fact, she sees them as her extended family.
“One of the reasons why I see my students and their families as part of my family is because I don’t have a child,” she said. “I tell them, ‘I love you guys.’ I want you to make good decisions because I want you to be successful.”
Although Perez Richter feels very connected to the Pleasant Grove community where Dorsey is located, she has never forgotten her roots.
“I’m proud of being Asian because being Asian represents so many—Chinese, Vietnamese, Japanese and many others,” she said. “I’m proud of my brown complexion and my beautiful country with beaches with blue water, rich food, and people who are very hospitable and accommodating to visitors.”
Like many Filipinos, Perez Richter says she comes from a mixed culture with influences from China, Spain, Malaysia, and other countries that have played a role in the history of the Philippines, from the cuisine to the language. She is able to make connections with her students’ families, most of whom are Spanish speaking, because some words in the dialects spoken in the Philippines are similar to Spanish, such as “sapatos” (shoes) or “mesa” (table). There might be some variations in the spelling, but the meaning remains the same, she said.
Beyond sharing common ground with her students when it comes to some of the aspects of culture and language, she loves helping them find their potential.
“The gifted and talented program is something that is boundless, and the kind of instruction that you give has no limit,” she said. “Although we follow the curriculum, I can go beyond, and I can be flexible depending on the needs of a child, because every child is different.”
She attributes her success to her education growing up in the Philippines and wants education to open the doors for her students, as it’s done for her.
She was the second of eight siblings, and believes education is the key to change the course of one’s life.
“I would not be in the United States if I did not get the education that I sought for myself,” she said. “I want my students to have an abundance of opportunities. I teach based on my experiences, and I share them with my children in the classroom.”
Jacinto Cabrera, principal at Dorsey, is thankful for the wealth of knowledge that Perez Richter shares with her students.
“Her years of service and dedication to the field of education extend beyond the classroom to our parents, community, and other educators, and that truly amazes me,” he said.