Morenos aim to make difference

Natanael and Leah Moreno are returning to Fairmont as the community outreach coordinator and an ELL teacher, respectively, at Fairmont Area Schools.

Natanael and Leah Moreno are new faces at Fairmont Area Schools. Natanael is the new community outreach coordinator while Leah is the new ELL teacher at Fairmont Elementary School.

The Morenos recently moved to Fairmont from Minneapolis. Both have roots here. Leah was born and raised here, and graduated from Fairmont High School in 2009. Natanael moved to Fairmont from Temuco, Chile, in 2005 and graduated from Fairmont High School in 2006.

When asked how his family ended up in Fairmont, Natanael said, “Bethel Evangelical Church went down to Chile to specifically invite my dad to Minnesota to plant churches among the Hispanics here since demographics were changing in the Midwest. That’s how we ended up coming here.”

While Natanael and Leah both graduated from Fairmont, they didn’t get to know each other in high school. They met at a ministry group at the University of Minnesota.

Leah studied Spanish and intercultural communication in college. She went back to get her master’s degree in TESOL (Teaching English Speakers of Other Languages). Most recently, she taught international students through the University of Minnesota center for writing. Prior, she was teaching ELL at a private school.

Natanael started out at Minnesota West, then went to Dordt University in Sioux Center, Iowa, where he studied digital media. He moved back to Fairmont to be with his mother after his father passed away.

“I ended up going to Minneapolis Community College where I got my associate’s degree in graphic design and a certificate in photography,” he said. “I just graduated two weeks ago from Metropolitan State University with a [bachelor’s degree] in advertisement and business management.”

He currently works as the office manager of Hiawatha Academies, where he has been for nearly four years. About 90 percent of students at Hiawatha are ELL students.

The Morenos had been living in Minneapolis since 2009 with their two young daughters. They admitted that moving back to Fairmont was not a plan they had in mind.

“Our whole adult life has been in Minneapolis, so it does feel like a big change for us,” Leah said. “It wasn’t something on our radar to be honest, but when the pieces all fell into place, it felt very right.”

In 2018, Fairmont Area Schools added the position of community outreach coordinator. It was held by Jessica Martinez until she left this past October. Also in October, the Fairmont School Board approved hiring an additional ELL teacher at the elementary school.

Leah explained that she and Natanael had been working with new-to-county students in their previous roles, and also had undertaken Latino ministry at their church in Minneapolis.

“When we saw there was an opportunity to do this kind of work in Fairmont, and that we could have more impact in Fairmont, we started to get excited about that because this is where our roots are and our families are,” Leah said.

Leah started at Fairmont Schools in mid-December and will work as community outreach coordinator until Natanael starts Jan. 12. She will then switch to her role as an ELL teacher at the elementary school, alongside Linda Hughes.

Fairmont Superintendent Joe Brown said that two school years ago there were 45 ELL students at the elementary school. This school year there are 99, which is why an additional ELL teacher is needed.

“I’m looking forward to getting back into the classroom,” Leah said. “I’ve been working with college students so I’m looking forward to working with kids again.”

Natanael is looking forward to being a bridge between ELL families and the school.

“I think about my own personal story and I didn’t have somebody in this role to explain to me about the school system and college and to help me figure out what GPA is and scholarships and things like that,” he said. “I want to be a friend, be a brother or perhaps a father figure to students. I will be able to work with students on a deeper level. It feels personal.”

Natanael said he would like to work on educating families on the school system, colleges and community resources. As he said, children of immigrants are usually the ones who end up interpreting for their parents, so he would like to help them just be students and focus on school.

“I want to help advise students and have conversations with parents,” Natanael said.

The Morenos recognize they have a lot of work before them, but they are appreciative of the people and groups who have been working on making Fairmont a more inclusive community. What drives and motivates them is a strong desire to help support others in any way they can.

Brown said the Morenos are a great fit for three reasons.

“They know the area because they’re both FHS grads; they’re both bilingual, which is a huge plus and many times; [and] when you hire a couple, they stay longer. We’re very pleased to have them here,” he said.