When Araceli Frias last visited with David Ruiz, it was over dinner in Kennewick. She hadn’t seen her family friend since she’d begun her doctoral program at the Washington State university College of Education. She was eager to discuss his work as a bilingual teacher. They also chatted about trips they wanted to take, their life goals. The future.
David had only a month of future left. He died in a July 8 car accident, while on an annual visit to Mexico. He was 32.
Over the past week, the wave of sad news washed over his family and friends, as well as his colleagues and students at Mark Twain Elementary School in Pasco. As it reached the WSU Pullman campus, where David earned a teaching degree, faculty who knew him were stunned.
“He was one of my favorite students ever,” said Associate Professor Paula Groves Price. “He was the sweetest person. He tried so hard.”
“He was an inspiration to everyone,” remembered Associate Professor Lynda Paznokas, now retired. “Even though he was dealing with huge family issues while he was going to school, he didn’t let that get in the way of his studies. His eye was always on the goal of becoming an outstanding teacher.”
David, who came from a family of migrant farm workers, could have been a case study for Araceli’s doctoral research on minority access to college. But getting into college is one thing. Staying there is another. Fortunately for David, he had a lot of help while he was at WSU.
Staci Bickelhaupt, certification coordinator for the College of Education, remembers that WSU faculty and staff were “huge cheerleaders” for David. They included Chris Sodorff, who oversees student teaching assignments; Paula, who gave him a laptop computer and printer she no longer needed; and Professor Skip Paznokas, who helped get him a scholarship.
David did his part. He grew up in the orchards, knew what it was like to work hard. His perseverance was recognized at the May 2005 commencement, when he was highlighted as an outstanding student.
Pictures posted by David’s family include one at his graduation from Brewster High School. It shows him nearly jumping for joy. When he finally donned the Cougar cap and gown, he was the first in his family to earn a college degree.
He was hired by Mark Twain Elementary right after graduation. He began fulfilling his goal of teaching children in both English and his native Spanish. David was the kind of teacher who would lunch with the kids, volunteer for extra duties, and talk to his students about the importance of being a good person.
David completed the Professional Certification Program for teachers in 2010. Pam Scott was his WSU adviser in the program.
“I loved how he modeled and taught respect. Every time I observed in his classroom, the children made their way over to formally greet me and shake my hand,” she said. “He loved teaching math, and it was magical to watch his third-graders explain their thinking during number talks. He encouraged them to share their ideas.”
David practiced capoeira, a form of athletic Latin American dance. He was taking salsa lessons. He and his father lived together in Pasco. He was like a son to Araceli’s mom, Maria Susana Frais, a former teaching colleague.
Besides his contributions to the Latina/o community, Areceli said, David was an important part of her family’s life. “I will miss him dearly.”