Well folks, I am back. After a nearly two-year hiatus from the newspaper business, I have returned. During my time away I learned a lot from some people I did not expect to. It was a journey that came to an abrupt end but a lesson learned. As they say “One door closes so another can open.” I am blessed to have gone through these doors.
I first began working for The Oakdale Leader/Riverbank News/Escalon Times in January of 2014 and stepped away in September of 2021. It was a difficult decision but I rolled the dice and left behind the familiar for new uncharted land. I went from being an on-the-go sports journalist and photographer to a support secretary at Stanislaus County Office of Education. It was very different from what I had become accustomed to. I went from late night football games, travel, outdoor events under the sun and rain to a desk job in an office that was 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday with holidays and weekends off. I enjoyed it greatly. It was very rewarding.
When I left it was an interesting time in our society. Parents, students, educators and decision makers were still trying to figure out school routines post-COVID. My first day, I will never forget. I had just parked my truck outside SCOE in downtown Modesto and there were people picketing and protesting in front of the building because of mask rules, limitations and other regulations that were being placed in the school system. As I was walking up to the building people were booing me simply because I was approaching the building. They were shouting that I was part of the problem. I stood up on top of the stairs just before entering, glanced back at the mob that was there and soaked it all in. I loved it. I thought to myself, “Wow these people are so worked up over this, yet they went to the wrong building to express their anger.”
My role at SCOE was to help adult students acquire their high school diploma. I did this by assisting them with any supplies they might have needed (Chromebook, references and resources). I believed that I was making a difference in the community. Seeing these folks graduate was so rewarding. I got to know thousands of students during my time there. From successful business people who just wanted to go back to school to graduate, to homeless folks that wanted to better themselves and their situation. They would come in once a week and I looked forward to seeing them and their progress.
The teachers and staff at SCOE were tremendous. I truly enjoyed working with them and getting to know them. It was a group of people that cared about the students, as well as their colleagues. I remember being very intimidated my first week. I did not want to mess things up. However, the staff in my office made me feel very welcomed and a part of the team instantly.
During my time there I decided that I want to pursue becoming an educator. The small sample size I got from working there opened my eyes to helping students and people. I have taken tests and passed exams to get on the path for credentials and I will continue to work on meeting this goal. My time was cut short due to budget cuts but as I stated earlier, that door closed and this door opened.
Having said that; The Leader is a different sense of accomplishment that I cherish. I get to assist the sports community in the town in which I really enjoyed helping for nearly a decade. Things have changed a lot since 2020. Families moved, students graduated, coaches and teachers have retired. I head into this school year not knowing very many folks but I think that is one of the exciting parts of my return. Seeing the student-athletes compete, work on their craft and ultimately graduate. I am looking forward to covering all Mustangs sports, rodeo and other community events around the region. Let’s ride.
Dennis D. Cruz is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News and The Escalon Times. He may be reached at email@example.com or by calling 847-3021.