Abraham Barrantes was 10 years old and spoke no English when he emigrated from El Salvador in 2008. Seven years later, he is a proud graduate of Wheeling High School – and college-bound this fall.
When he leaves for Bradley University, he will become the first in his family to pursue higher education. “I cannot believe that I am actually going to college,” Barrantes said. “I thought it was not possible.”
Placed in English as Second Language courses through middle school, Barrantes looked at college only as a distant dream until a teacher asked him if he wanted to go. “I realized that in America, I can be somebody,” says Barrantes, who plans to study criminal justice.
At Wheeling High School, Barrantes enrolled in AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination), a program that supports students – most of whose families have never gone to college – with collaborative learning and additional skills. The goal resonates District-wide: meet all students where they are intellectually, emotionally and socially and ensure every student is prepared for success beyond high school.
It is a growing challenge. With nearly one in three High School District 214 students living in poverty and the future of state funding uncertain, District educators work daily amid shrinking economies, changing technology and evolving industries to prepare students for diverse futures in a world we can’t yet imagine.
Their dedication and innovation, bolstered by integral business and community partnerships that provide internships, classroom speakers and opportunities to earn college credit while still in high school, is paying off. Since the inception of AVID, which also is offered at Rolling Meadows High School, every enrolled student has been accepted to a two- or four-year college or university – sometimes with scholarships.
“It is amazing to see how proud the families are when they see that their child will actually go to college, and it is not just a dream anymore,” said Bruce Varela, Wheeling High School’s AVID coordinator. Every student in the program has the ability to succeed, he says. They simply need the support.
“This is a dream come true for me,” AVID student Arlene Carlos says. “I was able to prove to myself that I can do anything when I work hard for it.” She’ll join Barrantes at Bradley this fall, and plans to study physical therapy. She credits her two older sisters as her role models, and her hard-working parents as her greatest motivators to do well in school and succeed in life. But she says she also took advantage of Wheeling High School’s numerous activities and the opportunities to prepare herself for a 21st century career.
When Guadalupe (Lupe) Sanchez immigrated to the United States from Mexico City in 1995, it was not a choice that she made. It was made for her by her first husband. They brought their two children, 9-year-old Carmen and 5-year-old Francisco, who is deaf as well as mentally and physically disabled.
After living in the U.S. for three years, Lupe divorced her abusive husband. She remarried in 2000 and had two more children, Marian and Ibraheem, who are now 10 and 6 years old, respectively.
In 2006, Lupe discovered the Women's & Children's Center (WCC) and its offering of free English as a Second Language (ESL) classes at Forest View Educational Center. She was attracted to the WCC because of its supportive atmosphere. She enrolled in ESL and took advantage of the early childhood education that was provided free of charge for Ibraheem while she attended class.
When Northwest Community Hospital was seeking Spanish-speaking women to be trained in leadership skills for a future Latina health initiative, Lupe was recommended as a candidate. Lupe now delivers workshops to Latinas on Diabetes, Domestic Violence, and Nutrition & Health three times per month around the northwest suburbs.
At present, Lupe is employed part-time by D214 Community Education as an instructional aide in the Title I Family Literacy Program at Rolling Meadows High School. She is attending the Illinois School of Health Careers to become a patient care technician. She received her GED certificate, goes to school 20 hours per week, and works part-time as a clerk at the school. Lupe also volunteers for different activities at her children's school and is a PTO member.
Guadalupe Sanchez is an inspiration to all Latinos living in the United States!
When Ana Valasquez first came to the Women & Children's Center (WCC) in 2002, she could hardly speak English. She enrolled in the Even Start program with her two young sons and her husband, Octavio. At the WCC, Ana studied ESL, employability skills, and computer literacy. She also received monthly home visits and parent education for three years.
After being at the WCC for some time, her newfound confidence led her to a job at the local currency exchange store and motivated her to enroll in the regular English as a Second Language (ESL) program.
Pushing her abilities to the limit, she simultaneously enrolled in the Read to Learn program and was paired with a dedicated tutor whose friendship she has maintained through the years.
Eager to become a U.S. citizen, Ana enrolled in citizenship preparation classes and worked extra time with her tutor to prepare for the interview. Her efforts paid off. She became an American citizen on June 5, 2008.
Ana and her family participated in a SOS-funded Family Literacy program in partnership with the Arlington Heights Memorial Library, which encouraged reading and using the library as a family. Her entire family was also part of the Prevention Initiative program funded by the Illinois State Board of Education Early Childhood Block Grant.
Success continues to follow Ana. She is now the manager of the currency exchange store where she is also a tax preparer. She received her GED certificate and is currently taking computer classes. Ana is unstoppable. Watch out for more of her successes in the years to come!
In 2001, Ana Calderon, a native of Mexico, was a battered spouse in a foreign country where speaking English was a challenge. Her six children, whose ages then ranged from 18 months to eight years old, were impacted by the abuse.
Desperate to find a way out, Ana discovered District 214 Community Education and the Women's & Children's Center (WCC). She enrolled in ESL classes to improve her English. Ana was also very grateful to have found a place that accepted her four preschool-aged children, which allowed her to attend classes twice a week.
At the WCC, staff members rallied around Ana and her children. They assisted her in obtaining a court order against her husband, secured a Section 8 housing voucher for her and her children, mobilized coworkers to donate used furniture and other household supplies, and gave her access to the on-site Clothes Closet and to two local food pantries. Regular psychotherapy sessions were arranged for her and her children at a reduced rate through a social service agency that collaborated with the WCC.
Ana's mother Lucila moved in with Ana and together they set out to overcome the challenges brought by Ana's newfound freedom. The WCC proved to be the haven that mother and daughter needed. They attended classes in ESL, employability, and computer skills. In time, Ana's English and basic skills improved and success came naturally, which resulted in her new job at Einstein's Bagels.
Nowadays, Ana has so many reasons to smile. She divorced her abusive husband and obtained custody of her six children. She is in the process of becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen, her children are succeeding in school, and her mother brings in additional income from cultivating, growing, and selling African violets. For Ana, life has definitely taken a good turn!
Meet Carinna Tello. Together with her husband Victor and their 5-year-old son Alan, they received the 2010 Spotlight on Achievement Award for their work in improving their reading skills and for learning the English language. The award was given to them by Secretary of State Jesse White at a special event held at the State Library in Springfield.
Carinna discovered Community Education, the Women & Children's Center, and its many services. She attended Beginning ESL five days a week and worked her way up to the advanced level.
"At the beginning, it was difficult for me to live in a foreign country, adapt to a different culture, and speak another language," she said. "It was not easy, but fortunately I found District 214 Community Education. It was incredible that they also offered childcare, giving me the opportunity to study while my son was learning too."
Carinna has come a long way from the shy woman to somebody who has discovered the joys of teaching, one who has become an achiever, a role model, and a confidant woman who is ready to contribute and do more for her community.
For Carinna and her family, the American dream is no longer just a dream. Carinna is now a naturalized citizen, she obtained her driver's license, and she and her husband have purchased a house. She gives back to her community by leading health workshops as an NWCH Promotoras de Salud presenter. She also currently attends the College of Lake County.
Through the help of the WCC and its encouraging and supportive teachers and staff, the Tellos have made their American Dream a reality!