Inspiration for Newton Family

By Emily O’Donnell
BU News Service

Although Newton’s Natasha Paddilla-Goddard is an unaffiliated voter, she went with Barack Obama in 2008 and again in November – partly because she sees him as a positive role model for her children.

Daughter, Nia, 9, and son Miles, 6, are biracial. Paddilla-Goddard is of Puerto Rican and African-American descent; her husband, Peter, is white. Obama’s election helped her family open a dialogue about race.

She said her daughter “describes my husband as ‘peach,’ myself as ‘brown’ and herself as ‘coffee.’ So one day she was watching Obama on TV and said, “Mommy, he’s coffee like me!”

So it was no surprise that Paddilla-Goddard decided to travel to Washington for her second inauguration.

“I went to the swearing-in this morning and got pretty close,” she said Monday after witnessing the president sworn in for a second time. “I went to the Inauguration in 2009, so it was nice to be back.”

As a teacher, Paddilla –Goddard also appreciated Obama’s salute to educators in his campaign speeches about the importance of investing in schools and teachers.

That’s because she knows a bit about the cost of an education.

The 41-year-old graduate of Bowdoin College and Columbia’s Teachers College is also an alumna of A Better Chance, a national organization that helps academically talented young people of color enter college-prep high school programs.

Paddilla-Goddard has 17 years of teaching experience, and is now the head of the English Department at Wellesley Junior High School.

And she did it all after having her first child at 17.

“It was challenging. I had to make a lot of sacrifices, all while battling the label of being a teen mom,” Paddilla-Goddard said of having to raise her son, Brian, throughout high school and college.

“In some ways the experience was empowering because I was still able to accomplish my goals, despite having the responsibility of raising a child.”

Paddilla-Goddard credited family and friends, along with the staff at Bowdoin College, as her support for pursuing a degree while taking care of Brian, now 23.

“I don’t think anyone pulls themselves up from their bootstraps alone,” said Paddilla-Goddard. “Everyone who has accomplished something noteworthy has done it with help, and government programs should be part of that assistance.”

Newly elected Sen. Elizabeth Warren expressed the same sentiment during her campaign, as well as President Obama this past summer.

That’s why attending the inauguration was a special treat.

“It was so moving for me to see people of all walks of life come together in one place and celebrate,” she said.

Paddilla-Goddard wasn’t able to attend the inaugural parade, but she watched it on TV.

“I loved it when the vice president was running and hugging audience members,” she said. “I also liked when Malia was dancing to the drums.”

“It was definitely worth the trip.”

Paddilla-Goddard acknowledges that living in Newton gives her children a positive outlook. The city has a black mayor; the state has a black governor.

“It gives my children a positive outlook on what they can accomplish,” she said. “I’m more able to tell them they can do anything, and they’re more likely to believe it.”

But she understands Newton and Massachusetts are special enclaves. Paddilla-Goddard would like to see more diversity in education, both in the demographics of the classroom and in the curriculum, during Obama’s second term.

Among her issues: the little amount of African-American history she learned in middle school and high school. She said she strives to integrate more works by African-American writers and thinkers into the classroom because she believes it to be helpful in teaching students of all backgrounds how to relate to each other.

“I want to teach my children and my students that there’s a much bigger world out there,” she said. “I want them to be valued both for who they are and where they come from.”

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