Betty Ganther grabbed her children, birth certificates and other important paperwork and fled her home in 2000.
It was the latest in a series of hardships facing the Bellflower woman, who is majoring in child development at the University of La Verne’s Burbank campus.
Medical issues seriously changed Ganther’s life, with kidney failure in 1999 subjecting her to regular dialysis treatments. As if that weren’t enough, she says she suffered regular physical and verbal abuse from her former husband. She didn’t want her two sons to endure that kind of life.
“We just uprooted and left everything behind,” Ganther said.
They stayed in domestic violence shelters for more than a year, but it never stopped Ganther from dreaming of a career teaching young children.
Ganther says her drive to help children began when she was a child herself. She began babysitting when she was 8.
“As the years progressed, I felt it was my God-given gift to be around children and interact with them,” she said.
Despite her lack of education and experience, Ganther was selected in 1995 by Kedren Community Head Start Preschool in Los Angeles to be a teacher’s assistant volunteer. She eventually moved into a teaching position at the school. Then heartbreak came at the end of that school year. School administrators claimed she didn’t have enough college credit to stay, so they terminated her.
Ganther decided to remedy the lack of college credit. She enrolled at East Los Angeles Community College, earning an associate’s degree in child development. She is currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree from La Verne and is set to graduate in 2015.
Holly Buckley, an adjunct professor at La Verne who taught Ganther in 2013, described her as a student who is committed to succeed. Buckley said she observed Ganther while she worked with young children, putting into practice what she had learned in the classroom.
“Betty has a great way with children and they respond well to her leadership,” Buckley said. “She will be a great addition to the field of child development.”
Along the way, Ganther’s health and home life began to improve. In May 2009, she received a kidney transplant, giving her more time away from the doctor’s office. Ganther’s home transformed from one of violence to a sanctuary for learning. It was not uncommon for her and her two sons to do their homework together.
Her oldest son now attends Arizona State University, where he is majoring in political science. Her other son is studying kinesiology at East Los Angeles Community College.
Ganther says her La Verne education helped her to discover that embracing diversity plays a major role in teaching young children.
“As I’m moving forward, I’m gaining more insight and knowledge about other people’s cultures, their beliefs and how things operate,” she said.
During a student teaching assignment, she encountered a 4-year-old girl on the playground meditating after becoming frustrated with other children.
“I have to understand their perspective on things, their beliefs, to help them,” she said.
Ganther hopes her passion for teaching young children rubs off on others, because she believes a child’s healthy upbringing is so critical.
“What happens that early in life can change each child,” she said. “For the better or for the worse.”