Preservation Through Education
Gallery: Catherine Segura [2 Images] Click any image to expand.
By Shanna Perkins
Catherine Segura believes that her role in the Iberia Parish school system was all of chance. But hearing the story of her life in education, it’s clear it was her destined path. Unknowingly, the Jeanerette native was studying to be a teacher long before she ever stepped into a classroom.
“My mother was an entrepreneur, but she was also a teacher in so many ways,” explains Segura gesturing to a vase of gladiolas adorning her kitchen table, which she says always remind her of her mother’s many business ventures. “If she saw a need in the community, she was there. Watching her, I think it was natural for me to become a teacher. But, it was mostly being in the right place at the right time.”
The first “right place” Segura happened upon was St. Edward School. And the “right time” was when she and husband Donald’s three sons started elementary school. Segura learned that the school needed volunteers and she happily stepped in. She recalls her own amazement at her Pied Piper-like ability to rein in so many children of such a young age. This experience laid the foundation and gave her the confidence to pursue the opportunities that awaited her. Segura learned about an opening through the school board to become involved in a CODOFIL sponsored bilingual program.
“My mother and father were punished in school for speaking French,” Segura says of why she leapt at the opportunity to preserve the French language in South Louisiana. “My grandfather lived with us and he spoke only French; we heard the language all of the time. So I interviewed and got the job as a teacher’s aid – that’s when everything really started happening.”
A noticeable theme in Segura’s life is that before one door can fully close, a window has opened. A phenomenon she explains as “merely coincidental” and chalks up to her being “the most blessed person.” CODOFIL announced that they planned to end the program, but offered the teachers’ aids the opportunity to go back to school to further their education. During this time, Segura became certified in Elementary Education and Kindergarden Education and before she could even finish her student teaching, she was offered a job teaching kindergarten. Seven years and a master’s degree later, another window began to creak open.
“The principal of the school I was teaching at came to me and said, ‘there’s an opening at another school and I think you’d be perfect for it,’” Segura remembers. “He told me he thought I was ready for it – it was a Principalship at Avery Island Elementary. I insisted that I wasn’t ready, but it kept being repeated to me that when opportunity knocks, it usually doesn’t knock again. So, I went for it and low and behold I was selected. I was amazed!”
Segura reflects back on her 18 years as principal with wonder. She recalls the experience of watching children receive their education on a wildlife refuge. She believes it had a remarkable ability to foster their learning, curiosity and creativity. She recounts her years at Avery Island Elementary as being surrounded by a dedicated staff, outstanding students, supportive parents and a local school adoption by McIlhenny Co., Avery Island Salt Mine and Jungle Gardens. Before Segura’s time as principal came to an end, a position as the Supervisor of Elementary Schools for Iberia Parish became available – Segura, as is her tradition, went for it. And it’s from this position that she later retired from the education system with 38 years and a doctorate degree in education under her belt.
“I think one of the things I’ve learned is that it’s so important to be a well-rounded person and have knowledge about several different subject areas,” Segura says of what her life in education has taught her.
As you might imagine, retirement hasn’t stopped someone this dedicated to education from teaching. Segura acts as an administrative assistance for testing that helps evaluate schools. She also volunteers her time to cultural preservation within the community.
“Preservation – I think that’s a big word. Preservation through education is a central theme throughout my life,” she says almost as a realization.
Segura is a volunteer at both the Bayou Teche Museum and the Shadows-On-The-Teche where she works closely with children’s camps and groups who visit for tours. Ironically, she is now on the other end of many of the programs she helped schedule when she was a supervisor. As a member of Kiwanis, and a past President of the education group, she serves on the scholarship committee.
Her family’s contributions to the community are evident in the many awards and plaques of appreciation made out to Catherine and Donald Segura that freckle the couple’s living room between family photographs, displaying three generations of smiling Seguras.
Another part of the culture she works to preserve is the Spanish roots of New Iberia. Segura serves on the executive board and is one of the founding members of the El Festival Espanol de Nueva Iberia.
“The reason I became so involved in the Spanish Festival is because my husband has Spanish ancestry and it’s important to him,” she explains. “It’s also important to my children, my seven grandchildren and my two great-grandchildren. They’re going to carry on the family name, so it’s important they know about the history.”
She recounts the journey she and her husband took to Malaga, Spain – where his ancestors hailed from – and laughs remembering their amusement as they drove into field of sugarcane, looking at one another and proclaiming, ‘Now it makes sense.’ It’s not just her own family she’s concerned with, Segura hopes that the festival, held in November, will educate others of their unique Spanish lineage. Her passion is clear when she recalls her experience in Spain during Holy Week with awe in her voice and tears in her eyes.
“I do have another hobby,” Segura says lowering her voice timidly. “I’m an iconographer. I just finished this one and it was on exhibit at the Cathedral,” she says cradling a shimmering religious icon. “It’s Christ the Teacher. Isn’t that appropriate?”
Segura explains how five years ago she went by herself to St. Joseph Abbey for six days to learn the unique technique of iconography. During the mostly silent and reflective week, she studied the 21-step process of “writing” icons. When Segura describes the theory behind icon writing, it’s hard to ignore the parallel between her life as an educator, allowing others to shine through the knowledge and wisdom she imparted upon them.
“The idea is to learn as much as I can about what I’ll be writing about so I can understand that inspiration. When people look at my icons, I don’t want them to see me. I want them to be able to feel the inspiration.”