Where were you born? I was born in Mexico. My family moved to the United States when I was 6 years old.

Did you speak any English? I knew three words my dad had taught me. The three English words I remember were door, window and bathroom. I felt super cool because I knew those three words. I was coming to the United States and I thought I was ready.

Where did you live? I lived where now the Walmart on 7th Ave is; it used to be a trailer court.

Where did you go to school I went to school at Northlake.

Is Northlake a special place for you? This school is very personal to me, I was an English Language Learner (ELL) student, and now I am in the ELL program. Some of the teachers I had are still currently here. Now my daughter Yaritza goes here.

What grade is your daughter in? Yaritza is in first grade in Ms. Davis class. Ms. Davis was my reading teacher in elementary school – she’s great!

How many brothers and sisters do you have? I have one sister and three brothers.

Did your siblings attend Northlake too? Yes, all my brothers, sisters and cousins came here. I have always loved this school. It is a dream come true to work where you loved going to school.

What high school did you attend? Mark Morris class of 2011.

Where does your sister attend school? My sister moved in with me this year, she goes to Monticello.

So you have your little sister living with you? Yes, it is very interesting because she is a teenager. There is such a big age gap between her and myself.

How old are you and your sister? I am 26 and my sister is 13. It’s as if I am raising a child. It has been tough sometimes, but we are starting to adjust to each other.

Is it difficult parenting your sister? She sometimes does not like it but I tell her as long as you are under my roof I control you – you are 13.

Does your family value education? Education is not something my family knows a lot about. They know it is important, but they have never made it a focus.

Do you make school a high priority? I make it very high priority because I know how important it is. I know how hard it is to try to catch up if you get behind.

Were you absent from class much during high school? I missed a lot of high school. I was always out translating for my parents. My dad got ill when I was entering my sophomore/junior year. Nobody around the house spoke English besides me, so I had to go to his appointments.

How did you catch up for all the absences? I went to Discovery High School and took 11 credits the last semester to catch up.

What did you do after high school? After school, I got pregnant and had a daughter.

Were your parents upset about having a child right after high school? Yes. I always try to take negative stuff and make it positive. My dad said now all you are good for is changing diapers. I took that very personally and said, “I am going to prove you wrong dad.” I put my daughter Yaritza in Head Start from 3 months to 3 years old and went to Lower Columbia College without letting my parents know.

Did you earn your associates degree? It took me three years to get my associates degree, but I did it.

Was getting your associate degree tough? Yes, partly because I became pregnant again.

Why was it so important for you to go to college? First, I wanted to prove my dad wrong. Second, my dad got sick and was near the end of his life. I wanted him to see me graduate and be proud of me.

Did you want to prove your dad wrong, or be proud of you? My mentality changed and I wanted him to be proud of me. Also, my mother worked so hard and I wanted to thank her for the sacrifice and show her I was worth it.

What is your son’s name? Mateo. Mateo will go to school at Northlake next year. My girl is good tempered, soft, sweet and kind. Mateo is completely opposite.

What did you do after earning your associates degree? Before graduating, I accepted a job at Northlake as a paraeducator for English Language Learners.

Did you always want to work with English Language Learners (ELL)? Yes, I was like exactly, that’s what I want to do, it is my passion. I was an ELL student, so I take it personally.

Prior to working at Northlake Elementary did you volunteer in schools? Before working at Northlake, I had been involved in schools for a long time. Mary Carr-Wilt is my mentor. She would get me to volunteer at different schools at events she had.

Were you excited to come back to Northlake as a staff member? Yes, so many of the people already knew me it made it easy to fit in. It feels like I am home.

What do you like to do outside of work? I recently took a part-time job. Being a paraeducator doesn’t pay real well while raising my sister and two kids of my own.

You have an associate’s degree, are you going to pursue a bachelor’s degree?  Yes, I am signing up for the bachelor’s degree program at Lower Columbia

College to be a teacher.

When do you plan to start school? I will start this spring. I was determined that an associate’s degree was good enough. It was more than I thought I could do, but now I know I can do more.

Are you going to be a part of LCC’s new teacher certification program? Yes, I have met with them and they said my application looks good. They said that my GPA looked high; I graduated with honors. I always put my family before me every single time and I feel that that will always be me, but I am trying to be selfish and do something for myself.

Is putting family before yourself tradition? Family is very important in our culture. Family before anything, even before myself. I was raised that way; my parents always put their parents first.

Does your family watch soccer together? We like to watch soccer. We spend Sunday watching soccer together as a family.

Does your family play games together? We like to play board games as a family. We play Dominoes, which is our top game. Then we play some Mexican games that we had at home that we try to have the kids grow with, to pass on some of the traditions. They love it. The kids do not speak fluent Spanish but they understand it, so they are able to play the game.

Do your children speak English at home? Yes, my daughter actually hates Spanish. We had some friends visit from Indiana and they had a little girl and she only spoke Spanish. My daughter was like, “Mom, I need to learn Spanish! What do I do?” So now, she is really trying to learn it. Which is kind of funny, all of my family speaks Spanish but my kids don’t speak it.

What is the best part about working with ELL students? The connection that I have with them, because I understand what they are feeling, I understand their frustration. I understand where they are coming from.

What are the frustrations and feelings ELL students have? It is frustrating because you know what you want to say but cannot say it.  You want to do well, but it doesn’t come in, like you can’t translate it.

Do you work with families too? Yes, I connect with them so much and it is nice because I can help families. They call all the time and we talk personal conversations because of the relationships.

How many ELL students does Northlake have? We have 58 ELL students right now.

When a student is frustrated and is struggling with words, what do you tell them? First, I sit with them one on one. I tell them, “I know this is hard, let’s sound it out together” We do the 95% so we stretch the words out with our fingers.

Do students know you attended Northlake? I tell the students I know it’s hard, I was an ELL student and I went to school here. Their face brightens up because I was went to school here too.

Do the kids ask you if you make mistakes speaking English? Yes, they ask, “You do make mistakes?” and I say – we all do.

Does it help students to know you were an ELL student years ago? We give them our story so they do not feel like they are alone. ELL students sometimes feel that because they speak a second language they are less instead of being more.

What do you tell kids to encourage them? We tell kids they are worth double, some kids only speak one language and you are trying to learn two languages and read and write both of them.

Do ELL kids get enough recognition? We know many of our ELL kids feel less because they are not as celebrated as they should be. We just try to get them to know they are important because sometimes they are embarrassed to go to ELL. We tell them you need to be proud, you need to celebrate.

Are all the ELL students from Mexico? No, we have a little girl from the Philippines and she asks, “Teacher am in Mexican because everyone speaks Mexican here.” We tell her no, it is Spanish not Mexican, but you are a Philippine.

Is working as in the English Language Learner program in your heart? Yes, an honestly I try to advocate for them to everybody. They are super smart kids that have trouble expressing everything.

What would you tell the public about ELL kids? I would say visit a classroom. The ELL classroom is so important and special.

Would you tell us about some of the special moments? When you are talking to the kids and are experiencing the, “Oh my gosh!” moments.

Has life been tough for you? I am not embarrassed whatsoever about my roots or living on 8th Avenue. I am proud of my background. I am making a good life. I am happy and comfortable, I am very thankful. I am grateful that I get to be here at Northlake with my daughter.

What would you want people reading this to know about you? If I can do it anyone can do it. I came from a low-income family. We always had food but we were very limited growing up and it was not easy. I cried so many hours, but it was worth it. Anything is possible with hard work and passion.

What is the key to your success? Perseverance. Sometimes I get angry and think – I have to do this, there is nothing stopping me.

Can you give an example of perseverance? When I was pregnant and days from birth, I had to take my final exam at LCC. I was like; you stay in there Mateo, you cannot come out! I gave birth on the weekend, was released Monday morning and took my finals in the afternoon.

What makes you so determined? I did not want to be picking berries in the fields anymore; I did not want to work at fish canneries anymore. I wanted to be at a job where I could sit, dress nicely, not come out of work dirty and tired for minimum wage. If one door closes, you have to open another door.

Do you have a strong will to succeed? Yes, sometimes I remember something that hurt me, that makes me angry and I ask myself – do you want to be that person that keeps reliving that moment or do you want to change it? I give myself options because that is the way.

Is education helping you improve your life? Yes, in my case I am not happy with picking berries, I am not happy about going to a fish cannery – but I am happy about going to school.

Are you a role model for your family? Yes, I am the oldest of the cousins. We have a big family and I have always felt that I am a role model for them.

Is being a role model for your family hard? Sometimes I don’t make the best decisions for them to model. When I got my associates degree my cousin put on Facebook, “Because of you I am going to go to college.”

Did your cousin go to college? Yes, she is finishing her degree in early childhood education. She helped me with my program, with my projects, and saw how much I put into it.

What message are you trying to give your family about education? I want to keep showing them that you can keep going, it is never too late. Two of them are not married and now they are going to school.

Are you a competitive person? I am very competitive. My cousins are almost done getting their associates degrees, so I need to get busy and get my bachelors!