11:26 AM

Woman Inherits a Big Heart

Maria Moreno with the principal of the school at the Kitoonya Orphanage School in Hoima.A longtime teacher and principal of a diverse school with a large number of refugees and immigrants in Southeast Texas, Marie Moreno, knows that she inherited her big heart from her father, who died too young at 42-years- old. “He had the biggest heart and wanted to see everyone happy. He wanted to ensure everyone had the basic needs and a little extra for the children,” she said.

For her 26 years in education, Moreno has worked with refugee and immigrant children from 42 countries speaking 32 languages. Her big heart is emulating her father’s kindness.

A Woman with a Bull-Horn in America the “Land of Opportunity”

“I am a strong advocate for the rights, education, and social justice,” Moreno said. “This vulnerable population [refugees and immigrants] does not have a voice and does not know how to access resources that will eventually provide them to be successful. I am that voice. I have that bull-horn in the country that is known as the land of opportunity. A place they can be free of danger and raise children. It’s the fabric of this country and what makes our community rich in diversity.”

Moreno is determined to ensure immigrants and refugees have equal access to education and have the assurance that students are in the right setting to accelerate their language acquisition of English.

An Introduction to Uganda’s Resettlement Camps

Moreno’s extensive work with immigrants and refugees has led her to research this population. The thesis for her Ed.D dissertation at the University of St. Thomas has ties to Uganda, Africa, which is the largest hosting country for refugees because of its stability and protection of this population. The majority of refugees fleeing to Uganda are from Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, and South Sudan. Uganda has 11 refugee resettlements, so she visited the largest camp, Kyangwali Refugee Resettlement Camp.

Moreno’s introduction to Africa was a visit to Jinja, a Ugandan town where she visited a “privileged orphanage” in 2014 sponsored by a church from Katy. She wanted to be more familiar with the students she encounters in her school, so she decided to return to visit refugee resettlements. She went back again in January 2020 and traveled further north, deeper into Uganda, where many of the resettlement camps are located and stayed in a small town- Hoima.

Her mother wishes for her safety and is worried about violence, but Moreno is not afraid to travel to Uganda because she is doing God’s work.

Growing Stronger, Bolder Wings to Channel More Love

Along her journey, Moreno found UST’s Ed.D. Program in Ethical Leadership when its director, Dr. Ray Garcia, called her to tell her about the program. Inherent in the program is a calling of leaders to be creative and competent catalysts for transformative change. A requirement that Moreno has aced.

Maria Moreno holding a child from an orphanage school. This is the Create Peace Project Uganda school.  For her required 60 hours of fieldwork to obtain the Ed.D degree, Moreno returned to Uganda to work specifically with refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan. She documents her 14-day journey by creating this video.Moreno feels that “This Ed.D program has indeed influenced my life because of its ethical leadership component with a focus on equity and social justice. If I had wings before UST, then UST only made my wings larger and bolder to speak up for what is right and call out the social injustices that exist and ensure there is equity for all.”

“I believe that it only takes one person to make a difference. Then, others will follow spreading that love among others,” Moreno said.

Dissertation Focuses on Language Acquisition

Her doctoral dissertation is titled A Longitudinal Study of Language Acquisition of Immigrant Students in Comprehensive and Newcomer Schools.

This study encompasses five graduating cohorts- Class of 2013 through Class of 2017. The research will determine if there are differences in linguistic and academic student outcomes for immigrants and refugees who entered a middle school, in one of two Texas English as a Second Language (ESL) instructional programs - ESL Content-Based instruction (used in Newcomer Schools) and ESL Pull-Out, (used in mainstream schools).

Writing Her Epitaph Now

Moreno has big dreams post-graduation. She wants to teach at the university level and become a consultant for school districts across the country who need help in creating a program that is specific to the needs of their immigrant and refugee children.

“I want to be remembered as the person who tried to make a difference in whatever community I interacted with – whether that was in my back yard or across the world, I want to influence others and make change happen,” she said.

For more information on the Ed.D program in Ethical Leadership at UST, go to stthom.edu/EdD.