When the first day of classes began Wednesday morning at 15th Street Elementary School in San Pedro, Esther Bousquet was among the teachers out in the playground holding up signs to attract their new students.
It was her first day of teaching in a public school, and it was like coming home.
As a child, Bousquet had sat in the same classroom--Room 14--where she began teaching 22 new second- and third-graders this week. In the 1940s, her mother, Noemi Franco, had been a pupil in Room 14.
In later years, the mother worked in the school's cafeteria and then qualified as a teacher's aide. The arrival of her daughter as a teacher was, she said, "one of the happiest days of my life."
Franco, as a school employee, will be assigned to other classrooms during the morning sessions. But, as a volunteer, she plans to spend several hours in the afternoons helping teach the mostly Latino youngsters in her daughter's class.
"It's a remarkable family, and it all seems to start with the mother," said Principal Stanley Bunyan, a veteran of 30 years in the Los Angeles Unified School District. "Working with them makes me excited again about what we're trying to do to help these kids get the right start in life."
For Franco, getting the right start means teaching youngsters the values that she learned as a child. "I've always believed that children must, above all, respect their elders," she said in an interview. "Then I've always tried to teach them to be honest with themselves and never take anything that doesn't belong to them."
Bousquet, whose husband Larry is a state highway patrolman, recalled that "playing by the rules" was the family watchword during the years that she was growing up with her brother and two sisters.
"Mom never allowed us to take any shortcuts," she said. "She always said it was better to do things the right way and fail, then to do it wrong and succeed."
The neat thing, she added, is that "the really good things of life come from following the rules."
Bunyan credited Franco with "an abundance of instinctive smarts that makes her so effective in working with kids. She builds them up with love and attention, but she doesn't let them off easy. She makes them understand that they have to work hard to succeed in life."
He said Franco once observed that "minority children have been brainwashed into believing that they don't have an equal chance, but she tells them to try a little hard work before feeling sorry for themselves."
About 85% of the pupils at 15th Street School, which Bunyan said is the oldest in San Pedro, are from minority groups. He said most of the youngsters are from Central America.
Values Pay Off
Franco noted with quiet pride that the values she teaches have worked in her own family. Her son, Robert, is a Los Angeles firefighter. Her daughter, Irene, is married to a scientist, the second daughter, Emma, is a computer programmer, and Esther is now beginning a career in teaching. Her husband of 40 years, Genaro, has been a longshoreman for 20 years, and the family has lived in the same house for more than three decades.
At the school opening Wednesday, Franco welcomed many of the new students in her daughter's class by giving them hugs. "She just glows when there are kids around," her daughter said.
Bousquet said she expects to carry the family's tradition at the 15th Street School into a third generation. In a few years, her two children will be old enough to enroll there. Quite possibly, they will also take classes in Room 14.