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Education Station: CMSD school for immigrant students named in honor of beloved educator

Natividad Pagan worked tirelessly to give students from other countries the best chance at success in Cleveland schools.

CLEVELAND — As part of our coverage of Hispanic Heritage Month, we want to shine a light on an educator with a passion for helping immigrant children succeed in our schools. So much so, a school in Cleveland was recently named in her honor.

A few weeks ago, Thomas Jefferson School on W. 46th St officially became Natividad Pagan International Newcomers Academy.

"Natividad Pagan's name just came out, because she was such a community leader and people voted. She really created Natividad Pagan International Newcomers Academy," says Head Principal Marisol Burgos.

Natividad means “birth” in Spanish, and Burgos says it's appropriate. Natividad Pagan International Newcomers Academy is the “birth” of something its beloved former Principal – and the school’s new namesake - was passionate about.

"Miss Pagan was very community oriented. She was very involved. She wanted students to succeed. It didn’t matter what background," said Burgos.

"She came to Cleveland at the age of 7 from Puerto Rico. English learners were students that were a second thought. She was a firm believer that all children should be equitably educated, especially - her heart felt - children who were English-learners," says Jose Gonzalez, Executive Director of the Multi-Lingual Department.

An educator for 40 years, Miss Pagan took the Newcomers program - designed for refugee students and students with interrupted formal schooling - and developed an integrated, dual-language school model for pre-K thru 12th grade. Natividad Pagan International Newcomers School now has over 500 students of 30+ countries and languages, all learning English together.

"Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Santo Domingo - we also have students this year from India. We want them to have a fair chance - equality," says Burgos.

Sadly, Miss Pagan never got to see her vision become reality. The 67 year old mother of 4, grandmother of 10 lost her battle with cancer 5 years ago.

"She had to fight very, very hard. She began her remission, and then it came back. She worked while in remission. She never stopped working. We were able to admire her courage and the dedication that she had for children," says Gonzalez.

Dedication that lives on at the school now named in her honor.

"I feel honored & privileged [she was] a Hispanic female. I’m a Hispanic female. All of us – it doesn’t matter what background you are – you can be successful in life," says Burgos.

CMSD renamed Thomas Jefferson School, as part of a new policy against names tied to racist, oppressive beliefs. Miss Pagan’s name was specifically chosen after the district and community leaders held several meetings with community members and decided Natividad Pagan's name would be perfect.

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