WORTHINGTON — A Worthington High School alumna is reversing roles this year in her English Language classroom, where she hopes to make an impression on students similar to what she experienced from their seat several years ago.

Last week was full of excitement for Leyvi Hinojosa, who took to the front of the classroom to welcome her first-ever group of students. This year brings a new perspective on the EL classroom, as the former ESL student transitions to being a teacher.

“They just remind me so much of me when I came here, so it’s really fun to talk to them,” Hinojosa said of her students.

Hinojosa will be teaching newcomer and beginner EL classes. It’s an experience to which the 2006 WHS graduate can personally relate.

At age 12, Hinojosa moved with her family to Worthington from Mexico right before the beginning of her seventh-grade year.

She spent until her sophomore or junior year of high school in an ESL classroom. Hinojosa credits the class with teaching her more than English language skills — it helped her develop a passion for teaching.

“I always wanted to help the teacher or my classmates who weren’t getting their work done,” Hinojosa said. “I remember going up to (my classmates) and asking if they needed help. I always liked to get up and read aloud and be in front of the students.”

She followed up with her teaching instincts and worked for the district as a paraprofessional for several years. All the while, she attended classes at Minnesota West and Technical College to earn an associate’s degree. From there she and her son, Adan Lopez Hinojosa, relocated to Mankato so she could finish her teaching degree at Minnesota State University.

Hinojosa completed her student teaching requirement between two schools — one in Costa Rica and the other at St. Peter middle/high school.

Although she moved back to Worthington in 2015, there weren’t many Spanish teaching jobs available. She accepted a position with Nobles County Family Services, which she enjoyed, but it wasn’t her true calling.

“I really missed the school and being around students and the atmosphere,” Hinojosa said of the decision to begin searching for teaching positions again in 2018.

Although it wasn't an option for her, Hinojosa’s story emulates what a collaborative effort between the district, Minnesota West and Southwest Minnesota State University hopes to accomplish. The innovative teacher pathway program that launched at WHS in 2018 hopes to eliminate barriers to obtaining a teaching license to increase the diversity of the region’s teaching pool.

As the year continues, Hinojosa hopes to create a close bond with her students, a lasting relationship she’ll never forget between her former ESL teachers and mentors.

“(The EL classroom) is a safe place when you’re in a new city and a new country and don’t know anything or anybody,” Hinojosa said. “I can tell (students) feel comfortable when they’re all together in one room.”

Much like her students in the classroom, Hinojosa feels comfortable being back with the district.

She considers herself fortunate.

“I have a lot of support from the teachers, and it’s really nice to see familiar faces and to know the building,” she said. “It’s really helpful.”