WALNUT, CA—Helene McDonald has been married 44 years, raised six children, and is passionate about her work with special needs children in the Walnut Valley Unified School District.
On Sunday, the busy mother and grandmother of five will don a cap and gown to receive a degree in liberal arts from Mt. San Antonio College. A year ago, she earned her first associate’s diploma in liberal studies.
During the same ceremony, her son Keith will be graduating with a degree in paralegal studies from the American Bar Association’s approved program.
“I wasn’t going to walk because Keith is also graduating and it’s his day,” Helene said about the 11 a.m. ceremony at the Citizen Business Bank Arena in Ontario.
“But, he told me that he wants me to walk with him - so I am!”
Helene said her primary reason for continuing her education has been for the kids at Vejar Elementary in Walnut, where she’ll begin her 20th year as an instructional aide in the fall.
“Everything I’ve done in college has been for the benefit of the children,” she said.
“I’m always looking for something new to bring to class.”
She said one recent course, strategies for math success, taught her how to “tear the problems inside out.”
“Math is everywhere. When working with kids with disabilities or kids that don’t understand math, I can show them strategies to do math in a different way.”
Another Mt. SAC class, interpersonal communication, looked interesting because it gave her the tools to help students talk with other people, she said.
Each year, the special education students plant a garden bursting with vegetables and flowers just outside the classroom.
The garden has received numerous blue ribbons at the Schools’ Agricultural and Nutrition Fair.
The children are asked to describe their garden project when judges come to the school to see the entries.
It provides students with a chance to learn the science of plants and life skills to care for them.
They choose the plants for their garden, prepare the soil, weed and water the edible bounty.
“The judges are always surprised at how much the kids know about their plants!” Helene explained.
This year, students partnered with other two other classes to create a Lego scarecrow from 322 empty milk cartons.
The six-foot-tall “Vinnie Vacquero” project was the spitting image of the popular snap together toys also won a first prize award in May.
At one point, HeleneMcDonald hoped to pursue a teaching credential, but as the years went on she decided to focus all her attention on the elementary children.
“I feel like I have an impact in the classroom,” she said.
The McDonald mother-son duo took a few courses together during their time at Mt. SAC.
“It was fun being in class and studying with Keith. He always said, ‘we can do it Mom!’”
Keith currently has an internship with the L.A. District Attorney’s office, works at Disney’s California Adventure, and is pursuing his bachelor’s degree in Legal Studies at University of La Verne.
“My mom inspires and motivates me to do the best I can and not to give up,” the 27-year-old said.
He even told friends that he would be graduating alongside his mom.
“They think it’s great and we do too!” Helene said.
Helene McDonald and son Keith will receive college diplomas during a ceremony on June 18.