It’s somewhat improbable that both Julie Maldonado and her daughter, Mary Villegas, have worked simultaneously in the Hollister School District for multiple decades. 

Perhaps even more astonishing is that Villegas has taught for 20 years with cerebral palsy. 

The duo reflected on their time and experiences in the district—Villegas as a teacher and Maldonado most recently as an office coordinator at Sunnyslope School. Maldonado is finishing a remarkable 40 years with the district and helped to set the course for her daughter to follow a family tradition of working in schools. 

Both of them named off a long list of relatives who have worked in schools. 

“We all just enjoy education,” Maldonado said. 

As for her daughter, Maldonado reflected on Villegas’ goals early on in life despite her challenges. 

“That is just amazing,” she said of her daughter’s career. “I’m happy and proud of her. It’s exciting to me that she, as a child, wanted to become a teacher.” 

Maldonado, hired by the district when she was 18, mentioned that her daughter knew she wanted to come home and teach in this community once she finished college. 

“I couldn’t be prouder of her,” Maldonado said. “She has her own challenges, but is still out there teaching students.” 

Cerebral palsy is caused by abnormal brain development or damage to the developing brain, and it affects the ability to control one’s muscles, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

“I always was positive with her and was always pushing her to go the extra mile, telling her that she could do anything,” Maldonado said. “She was just a spirited kind of gal. If someone told her she couldn’t do it, she pushed to prove them wrong.” 

Villegas reinforced her mother’s influence on her path and attitude. 

“I was born with cerebral palsy,” Villegas said. “Not only is she a super awesome mother in general, but also she is my biggest advocate and just believes in me. As a kid, I liked that we got to have our summers together, too.” 

Villegas said by the time she was age 10, she knew she wanted to become a teacher. 

“That was due to my mother and my fifth-grade teacher here at R.O. Hardin,” Villegas said. 

She was referring to Sandra Stambaugh, who also taught Maldonado as a child at the Hollister school where Villegas has taught fourth and fifth grade the past nine years after 11 years at Calaveras Elementary School. 

“She told me I could be whatever I wanted to be,” Villegas said of Stambaugh. “It’s a big part of what pushed me in this direction.” 

As for Stambaugh, Villegas said she “went above and beyond” to help her find her belief and passion. 

Now, Lilia Espinoza is principal at R.O. Hardin. She has come to know both the mother and daughter through the years in various roles with the district. 

“One of the things is, Mary doesn’t drive,” Espinoza said. “So I just remember seeing her ride her bike. She used to have a bike with two seats in the back. She used to have both of her kids who were going to school as well.” 

The principal described Villegas as a person who never makes excuses. 

“It’s never an excuse as to why she can’t,” Espinoza said. “She’ll never use that. She always figures out a way to get it done.” 

She characterized the family, including the mother and daughter duo, as “go-getters.” 

“They work hard. That’s just in their family genes,” she said. 

Others show their appreciation toward Villegas for her work ethic and pride as well, including her students on a regular basis. With her home near R.O. Hardin—she has lived in the neighborhood most of her adult life—students eventually find her when trick or treating or as they snag a book from the Little Library in her front yard. 

“I knew from the beginning I wanted to come home because this is the community that gave me the drive to believe in myself,” said Villegas, who speaks fluent Spanish and has taught a migrant program, too. 

Reflecting on her tenure with the district just like her mother, Villegas recalled her mindset when she started teaching—being amazed at how long her mom had been with the district.

“My classroom is still one of my favorite places to be, even after 20 years,” Villegas said. “I’m always happy to arrive in the morning. The growth I get to witness from August to June is always amazing.” 

For her mother, as much as she loves her job, Maldonado said she will retire in another two years to spend more time with family, including five grandchildren. 

“I just enjoy my job,” she said. “I have so many friends here.”

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