For a year, Elvia Aguilera-Ortiz had been investigating ways to go back to school.
The timing was right: Her kids were old enough to take care of themselves after school, and she knew after 10 years of working as a teacher's aide at Empire Elementary School that she wanted to pursue a degree in elementary education.
The only problem was the money.
"My husband and I both work," she explained. "We pay the bills, but it's not enough to go back to school."
Then she got a phone call.
Cheryl Macy, English teacher at Carson High School and Nevada's Teacher of the Year, had been given the opportunity to grant a full-ride scholarship to the University of Phoenix.
Because it is an on-line format, Macy said, she was looking for someone already dedicated to a profession, particularly teaching. She asked around the district and heard of Aguilera-Ortiz.
"I learned she's so committed to both her students and her children," Macy said. "That really spoke to me."
So she called Aguilera-Ortiz to ask if she were interested.
"Is this a joke?" Aguilera-Ortiz remembers asking in disbelief.
Macy presented Aguilera-Ortiz with the scholarship during a ceremony last week at the Reno campus of the University of Phoenix.
"I'm really appreciative," Aguilera-Ortiz said. "She didn't even know me. I can't believe she's giving me this scholarship."
And the University of Phoenix works well with her schedule. She enrolls in five-week courses, attending once a week on campus.
"It's a really nice program," she said. "It's really flexible with my work."
It gives Aguilera-Ortiz, a 1996 Carson High School graduate, the chance to pursue her dream of becoming a full-time teacher.
"I love working with kids," she said. "They're so joyful to be learning. They want to learn everything you teach them."