Analis Carattini-Ruiz understands what it’s like to feel judged by outward appearances.

At one point in her life, she was an exchange student from Puerto Rico who came to Utah and ended up staying. Now she directs the Student Educational Equity program at Alpine School District.

“I don’t fit the traditional mold when it comes to administration,” Carattini-Ruiz said in an interview Wednesday. “It’s important for people to get to know me individually because once that happens, we can move forward. I’ve had to learn different ways of addressing issues in order to be heard. Then people can get to know me for who I am and what I have to contribute. That is my hope for all of my students and also for people of color. If you listen and understand who the other person is, then you can move a lot further in the conversation.”

Her personal experiences and professional expertise — she earned a Doctor of Philosophy degree from the University of Utah and worked with a similar program at Canyons School District — make her the perfect person to administer programs that deal with social, cultural and economic challenges.

“We work with a number of different programs,” Carattini-Ruiz said. “We work with Title I, which is those who are economically disadvantaged, and Title III, which are programs for students who are learning English as a new language. There is Title VI, which is for students who are Native American or Alaska native. Also we work with McKinney-Vento students who may be homeless or in transitional housing. We also have smaller programs like translation and interpretation services, and Latinos in Action.”

She explained that the main goal of the many programs is simple and straightforward.

“Our goal is to eliminate barriers to their education,” Carattini-Ruiz said. “We want to ensure that the funds we receive are used to eliminate barriers for our students based on their circumstances.”

The program aids students who face a wide range of obstacles in their lives and Carattini-Ruiz has seen tremendous impacts during her two years at the district.

“We have seen McKinney-Vento students who have been able to graduate because of the support to help them get the credits they need, which is huge,” Carattini-Ruiz said. “With our Native American students, in years past we have been able to use grants send them to experience Ivy League schools. That gives them a broader perspective of the opportunities that are out there.”

Recent events have highlighted the need for greater efforts to address issues such as racism and social inequality. Carattini-Ruiz believes it is vital that the school district does its part to promote improvement in those areas in education.

“We’ve started with professional development for adults so they can support students and provide that safe environment,” Carattini-Ruiz said. “We collaborate with other departments so we can develop equity through different lenses. It permeates through everything we do in our district.”

She is in a unique position to see a broader picture of northern Utah County and all its challenges and diversities.

“We have pockets in our district that are more impacted and pockets that are less impacted,” Carattini-Ruiz said. “Depending where you are at, you are going to see the variance of diverse populations. I’ve also seen how it changes year to year. As an example, we had around 3,200 English learners while this year we have 4,500. We see different needs, so we learn from those and allocate resources appropriately.”

That one of the reasons that Carattini-Ruiz and her team have worked to help each school develop its own plan and mentality to deal with its own unique challenges.

“The goal is to come together and process ways to be more equitable in serving all of their students,” Carattini-Ruiz said. “It’s been great to have those conversations. There are several professionals of color in our district who have also created an affinity group. Our district has met with them to understand what the issues are from their perspective. Those meetings have been very, very helpful and created a space of mutual understanding and respect.”

The reality is that social issues such as racism happen in Alpine School District just like everywhere else, which is why Carattini-Ruiz believes it is so important to continually address any issues.

“I think everywhere you go, you are going to find cultural dissonance,” Carattini-Ruiz said. “The reason for that is that we see based on who we are. We have been socialized in certain ways and we all have implicit bias. Sometimes we act on that, intentionally or unintentionally. Part of the work is becoming aware of what is triggering that bias because then you can stop from acting on it in ways that may be more harmful.”

She believes that every step forward that takes educators and students toward better understanding makes a big difference.

“When they can see success even on a smaller scale, then they are motivated to engage in that even more,” Carattini-Ruiz said. “We can learn from one another. I think where we misstep is that we look at behaviors and we automatically place some sort of label or judgment without listening and trying to understand the issue that is triggering that behavior. If we could do that first and understand the root cause, then we can continue to connect emotionally even when we are different.”

In working with students and educators and seeing progress happening in so many different areas, Carattini-Ruiz is optimistic that the community can continue to improve when dealing with social issues.

“I could not do this job if I had no hope,” Carattini-Ruiz said. “I am an optimist and I always try to find the positives and the lessons we need to learn. We want this generation to learn the lessons from the past so we can continue to move forward and improve our society until everyone feels like they belong. This is a journey. We need to understand our history and what has been done so every generation can take a piece of this journey and make it better for the next generation. My message is that this is everyone’s work. By educating one another, we can learn from the mistakes and make things better.”

Daily Herald sports reporter Jared Lloyd can be reached at 801-344-2555 or Twitter: @JaredrLloyd. Instagram: @JaredrLloyd.