The sudden, unexpected death of a long-time, local teacher in San Luis Obispo has prompted an outpouring of grief and a growing memorial from students, friends and family.
Andrea Blanco, 62, died Wednesday after complications from knee surgery, according to family members.
Blanco began her official teaching career on the Central Coast at Bishop Peak Elementary School in 1996 as a part-time bilingual aide. In 2000, she also began working part-time at Laguna Middle School. She went full-time at Laguna Middle School in 2012. In 2017, Blanco moved to Pacheco Elementary School.
“This is a huge loss for our community, especially our Latino community,” said Cathy Ahearn, Blanco’s friend and fellow English Language Development teacher.
“She worked tirelessly with her students inside and outside the classroom. She always pushed students to be their best. She continued to mentor her students long after they left her class and her school,” Ahearn said in a phone interview with KSBY News while fighting back tears.
Growing memorial at Laguna Middle School
A memorial for Blanco is now growing at Laguna Middle School. Students and families came together on Thursday night for a vigil, placing flowers and lighting candles, in memory of the beloved teacher and friend.
Ahearn says approximately 150 kids and their families came to the vigil Thursday at 8 p.m. She said it was emotional for everyone.
“(Her death) leaves a huge void. She would do anything to help these kids and their families rise above their challenges,” Ahearn said.
A long-time legacy of helping the Latino Community
Blanco moved to San Luis Obispo with her family after her husband, Arturo, was hired at PG&E. She was originally an immigration lawyer in Berkeley.
In 1991, Blanco began volunteering at Bishop Peak where she created the “Puentes” after school program to help kids and their parents understand the value of school.
The kids were so enthusiastic about it that they would end up returning to help other kids throughout their own higher education including college, according to Blanco’s family.
“She was able to see all the results of the program with students graduating from universities which once seemed like an impossible dream. Her students, ESL, and the underprivileged were so important to (Blanco),” her family said.
A post on the SLO County Commission Status of Women website says Blanco has spent 20 years in the San Luis Obispo community working tirelessly to connect her outreach to the Latino community.
Blanco worked with the students and their families to help them succeed in school, translate as needed and apply for college, according to the page.
All who knew her say Blanco went above and beyond the workday to reach these families.
“She has former students who are now in college who still call her and ask for advice,” Ahearn said.
Blanco and Ahearn worked together at Laguna Middle School for 11 years. “She was a confidant, a mentor, she always had the right thing to say to everyone. It’s just really hard,” she said.
Blanco leaves behind two adult daughters and a husband. The number of students and families she impacted is hard to tally, but from the outpouring of those she touched, it may be immeasurable.
A vigil will be held again Friday night as well as eight additional nights at 8 p.m. at Laguna Middle School, 11050 Los Osos Valley Road.