Published January 17, 2012
Volume 20, Number 1

Child Development Center’s Imelda Acosta Is Dedicated to Education

By Nicole Zaro Stahl

The Director of Hacienda Child Development Center, Imelda Acosta has spent her entire life in the education arena. It was the overarching theme in her family, and it remains a cherished value today.

“I always knew I wanted to be teacher,” she states. “I come from a family of professors and teachers, and I have a love for watching a child learn to do things. It’s something that is priceless.”

Acosta was born and raised in the Philippines, the sixth of eight children. Finances were tight, and there were few indulgences beyond the basics, she relates. For her parents, education was always the priority.  Despite the challenge of covering tuition costs for their large family, they eschewed the public school system and sent all siblings to private school. At one point they were supporting four children in college.

To make ends meet, her father held two jobs, as a reading director at a public school by day and a university professor in the evening. Acosta specifically remembers the household economies—her father up on a ladder to fix the ceiling, for example, rather than paying someone else to do the repairs. “I never realized until I had my own children why someone would work so hard for education. Now I know why it’s so important,” she affirms. 

In the late 1970s, with their home country mired in political turmoil, her parents immigrated to the U.S., where they felt there would be more opportunity for their offspring. Acosta and her two younger sisters were still in college. She finished her schooling and spent two years acquiring invaluable experience teaching special needs children back home before her own move here in 1986, at the age of 24.

Both parents had become public school teachers in the San Jose Unified District, her father in high school and her mother in middle school. Despite their many letters back to the Philippines about what life was like in California, Acosta admits to feeling “a little bit of a culture shock” on arrival. The friendliness and independence of Americans contrasted with her more reserved upbringing, but she and her siblings soon adjusted.

Professionally, Acosta was ready to take the next step building her career, moving into the mainstream classroom. She spent a few months substituting in the public system, and then discovered the HeadsUp! School. Totally captivated by its approach to students, Acosta took a job as head teacher on the San Jose campus.

Even though she was still single at the time, the prospect of becoming a mother herself strongly influenced her decision. “I really liked the school’s philosophy of the whole child, paying close attention to the child itself and how it progresses. Our premise is that the child is pretty much in charge of its own learning. As a teacher as well as potential parent, it was a unique opportunity to work for an organization whose philosophy is to follow the child’s lead.” 

Once her career was launched on the right track, Acosta had the time to focus on her personal life. In 1987 she married the engineering student she had met in college in the Philippines, and two years later they had their first child, a boy.

By the time her second son was born, the family had moved to the Tri-Valley, and Acosta transferred to the Hacienda Child Development Center, also under the same corporate umbrella. She became Director in 2005. The center serves a total of 250 children divided into four age groups from infancy to age five. An integral part of the business park’s original plan, the facility has been recognized for design features like large windows, inviting classrooms, and spacious outdoor play areas, all of which encourage children “to explore, create, communicate, and enjoy.”

As a working mother, Acosta enrolled her own boys in the center when they were infants. Her roles as both a professional and a parent have given her a special perspective. “What’s important from an educator’s standpoint is to understand both sides, so we can forge a very solid partnership with the families,” she comments.

Watching the boys continue in the program through pre-school and then at the HeadsUp! elementary school on Stoneridge Drive reinforced her appreciation for the center’s eclectic approach to learning. The teachers blend techniques from model programs, like Montessori and its emphasis on freedom of exploration, with regular updates to the curriculum to impart the skills necessary for their charges to become productive citizens in society today. Throughout, the focus is on drawing out the potential of each child.

“Teachers are the facilitators in the classroom. They observe the child--how she interacts with others, the materials she uses—and then direct their teaching so she masters the next level of skills, in a positive, upward spiral,” Acosta explains. Large, open classrooms encourage movement. Children are free to go from one area to other, and teachers observe not just the academic but the social aspects of development. 

Acosta saw the positive impact of these practices reflected in her own children’s internal motivation and enthusiasm to go to school in the morning. Instead of feeling pressured, they were full of anticipation at the prospect of learning new things. “For our students, coming to school means participating. They are excited to see what’s out there. We do have a structure, but every day is a surprise because of the teachers’ approach.” 

The diversity of the Hacienda Center’s enrollment is a deep source of pride for Acosta. “These children are raised so differently in their homes, and then they come together at school with a common goal,” she notes. Families are invited to share their cultures in the classroom, and the children learn respect for others’ beliefs and traditions as part of the school’s emphasis on building community.

Asked if she encountered any surprises in her post as Director, Acosta mentions the variety of motivations that attract families to the school. “The starting point is what inspiration they have in raising their own children,” she explains. “Some parents want their child to learn the same way they did, but others want something completely different. It’s very personal in each family, yet they all picked the same facility and environment.”

In her downtime Acosta enjoys reading and, at the inducement of her sister, is a soup kitchen volunteer. On occasion she has brought her sons along so they could see how fortunate their own lives have been. 

Now in college, the boys have developed different interests outside the field of education, at least for now. The elder is planning on going into the food service business, while his younger brother is studying photography and digital imaging. Both appreciate the benefits of living at home during their studies, an experience Acosta herself did not have the opportunity to enjoy. Noting that the younger one has plans to move out of the area for graduate school, she remarks, “There is always one son who stays home close to mom and dad, and the other who wants to open his wings.” Geography aside, their minds will always be open to new things thanks to their educational background.

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