News | May 08, 2017

AlumniCollege of EducationCulture

Writing what she knows

Teacher recalls her own experience to craft book about bridging language barriers

Cynthia De Las Salas (’03, Elementary Education) recalls her first day of kindergarten – her classmates spoke fluent English and she longed for her grandmother, her abuela, with whom she’d shared almost every day of her first five years. “I hated it. My dad had to bribe me with lollipops to stay in the classroom.”

De Las Salas, 44, went on to devote her 23-year career to classrooms. The Chicago-born educator – the first in her Puerto Rican immediate family to attend college – has enriched lives of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) via roles as classroom aide, reading coach, first-grade teacher, ESOL district liaison and school counselor. Currently at Clewiston High School, she’s responsible for guidance duties for 500 freshmen and sophomores and 50-plus ESOL students.

Yet, she found time to write a 23-page book, “A is for Abuela,” which depicts the first day of school for Lolita, a girl similar to De Las Salas in kindergarten. It will be published by AuthorHouse this spring with copies available online and at brick-and-mortar stores. Visit

“Lolita represents some of what I lived, some of what I’ve seen,” she says. The book’s target audience is elementary school instructors and parents.

Lolita struggles to connect with her teacher and other children but ultimately has a good first day once she and her teacher bond over mutual understanding.

Students of De Las Salas say it’s spot on.

“I came (to New York) from Cuba when I was 8, and my teacher would say, ‘Rapido’ or ‘Como estas?’ but if I replied in Spanish, she wouldn’t understand,” says Rache Valdes-Moya, a Clewiston High 17-year-old whose elementary school in Queens comprised speakers of English and Korean. “I had no idea what was going on. My ESOL teacher was Korean.”

But she – like Lolita – came to love school immediately, and even more so after relocating to Hendry County and meeting De Las Salas. Like the feeling conveyed by the characters in “A is for Abuela,” Valdes-Moya says, “There is nothing better than to know there is someone at school who cares about you.”

De Las Salas smiles as the high-schooler speaks.

She’s already working on a sequel called “Lolita’s Christmas Angel.”

“My dream is just to be a writer,” the elementary education major says. “I like helping other educators. As educators we have power to change students’ lives. Students need adults who care. A lot of our kids have good parents, but they need the guidance to help kids get through the educational system.”