Maritza Robles’s leadership philosophy has been described by her son, José, as one focused on “fighting for others” in both her professional and personal lives. José and his four siblings are some of the recipients of Maritza’s fight for others. When the five siblings needed a home, Maritza searched to find one where they could all stay together. When none turned up, she took all five into her home and adopted them.
Maritza grew up in Puerto Rico and it was there that she earned a Bachelor’s degree. In 1972, Maritza came to South Bend to study for her Master’s degree at the University of Notre Dame. Upon the completion of her degree, Maritza began her life’s work with the South Bend Community School Corporation.
From the beginning, Maritza’s leadership centered on advocating for immigrants and refugees. In the early 1980s, Maritza’s advocacy shifted slightly to focus on the need for specific programs targeting the needs of bilingual children. According to Maritza, “bilingual children need different support structures.” Maritza drew attention to the lack of coordination of resources within bi-lingual programs and to the problem that many of the teachers in these programs weren’t themselves bilingual. To help address this problem, Maritza advocated to have bilingual specialists in each school building, an approach that was innovative for its time.
Maritza spent the next 31 years of her career working as the Director of Bilingual Services for South Bend Community Schools. Under her guidance, the Maritza Robles Dual Language Immersion Program came to be. According to the South Bend Community Schools website, this learner-centered language approach provides “native English and native Spanish speakers the opportunity to maintain and develop their first language while acquiring native-like communication and literacy skills in a second language.”
After her retirement in 2012, Maritza continued her work with the school corporation by successfully running for a spot on the school board. Of her time on the board, Maritza observed that “serving on the school board has given me a whole new perspective on policies and governance.” As a school board member, Maritza was able to continue her mission of advocacy for immigrants and refugees. In addition, she worked to help maintain healthy finances while securing a continued emphasis on effective instruction.
Maritza’s leadership was also apparent in the numerous community organizations to which she gave her time, including: the Boys and Girls Club, St. Joseph County Public Library, La Casa de Amistad, Ivy Tech, Memorial Hospital, St. Joseph Regional Hospital, First Source Bank, South Bend Heritage Foundation, United Way, Aids Ministries, and the CASIE Center.
Maritza’s leadership has been recognized with the University of Notre Dame Champion for Education Award. In addition, Maritza was a three-time winner of the United States Secretary of Education Initiative Award for her work with programs for migrants and families. In 1998, she was inducted into the South Bend Hall of Fame.
Information compiled from various “South Bend Tribune” articles and information from the family.
Maritza was a 2018 CMWL honoree.