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Sandy High educational assistant wins Child Welfare and Community Involvement Award

This year, Maritza Rodriguez's family moved back to California, but she was determined to stay in Sandy and finish her senior year of high school.

Rodriguez, 18, dreams of attending college in California to become a bilingual kindergarden teacher.

She's excited for the next step, but knows there's one woman at Sandy High School she'll miss dearly - who she'll always return to visit.

'I want to be someone like Obie - someone who's there for families and kids, who gets involved, listens to what you're going through and can feel it with you,' Rodriguez says.

Obie Murphy, an educational assistant at Sandy High, was recently honored with the Child Welfare and Community Involvement Award from the American Federation of Teachers.

To the Hispanic students she works with at Sandy High, Murphy is known as a second mom.

'She's the one who motivates me in school,' says Diana Ramos, a 17-year-old junior. 'I'm going to graduate next year pretty much because of her.'

Murphy moved to Oregon from Boston at age 21, working as a forest ranger before joining the Oregon Trail School District ten years ago. She then became a family liaison in the school district who worked closely with migrant families.

'Many of these families work in the fields,' she says. 'Traditionally, they don't let their kids come to school. They're often living in poverty, and many of the parents have only gone through third or fourth grade, expecting their kids to also work at early ages.

My goal is for students be to community oriented and involved, to aspire to attend college, to return to become good contributors to their communities and work as professionals.'

Two years into her job with the district, Murphy's position switched from a family liaison to an educational assistant, but much of her outreach and advocacy remains the same.

It's not uncommon for her day to begin at 6 a.m., with concerned calls from students. Much of her day-to-day work involves problem solving and connecting kids with resources - food, shelter, tutoring and medical resources.

'I'll say, 'Try this, this and this,'' she says, describing her goal to meet them where they're at and offer them several possibilities.

In the migrant communities, she builds rapport with the families to offer adult English classes, fairs for families and kids about health, environmental issues and drugs and alcohol awareness. She also helps students interested in college with applications and scholarships.

'After 10 years, I'm seeing the older brothers and sisters of current students winning scholarships and going off to college,' Murphy says. 'It's fun to see the celebration and see how their confidence has grown.'

Outside of work, Murphy is a union representative for the Oregon School Employees Association, chairwoman of the Oregon State Conference, and part of a Congressional network team, traveling to Washington, D.C., a couple time each year for lobbying.

Murphy has three children: Molly, Matt and Megan. She enjoys cooking, hiking, skiing and taking trips to her New England stomping grounds each summer.

She also advises Azteca Club, a group celebrating Hispanic culture and drawing upwards of 75 students each year. Murphy forgoes her stipend so the club doesn't require the usual $20 fee.

'We're lucky to have her -- to have her support for the Hispanic students,' Rodriguez says. 'She helps us to learn about the culture we come from. I feel like if it wasn't for her, I'd be lost.'