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Lidia's Story | Teacher Sandra | An Infant's Hope | Teacher Maria | Javier's Literacy

Lidia's Story

When Lidia came to Phoenix in December 1999, she did not know the language, the currency, the customs of the land. She hoped for a better life with her husband.

Lidia came from a small mountain village, Arroyo Tomate, in the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. Her native language was Chinanteco, not Spanish, which she learned in school. She was the oldest of 7 siblings. In her village, she shared a cottage with 4 sisters, one remaining brother, parents, and grandparents. The nearest town, Playa Vicente, was 3 hours by bus, and from there it was still 7 hours to the capital, Oaxaca.

Lidia’s family lived off the land. Tomatoes, beans, corn, sweet potatoes were daily staples. Chicken was a special treat, served once a month at most. The village, like so many in the region, did not have running water. People had to scoop water out of the river and boil it for drinking. For cooking they used wood-burning stoves. Electricity, however, was available for light and powering radios and TVs.

Lidia's mom raised 7 children. “None of us had shoes,” Lidia recalled. “And my mom had only one dress to wear. So she had to wash and dry it quickly for the next day.” When it rained, the roof leaked so bad that buckets were set up all over the floor. And if it drizzled on the sleeping children, the father would put his clothes over them for cover.

When Lidia came to Unlimited Potential, she had had only six years of elementary education, learning Spanish and English at the same time. Her son, Pablo (two years old) enjoyed learning songs, rhymes, and shapes, and all the activities designed for his age in our early childhood program.

Lidia enrolled in English classes at South Mountain College after she finished the program. “I want to study more English to be able to help my son in school,” she said. “Later I would like to train to work as a hairdresser.”

“My parents don’t even know my child,” Lidia said, thinking about the family in Playa Vicente. Shifting countries has not been easy for Lidia, but Unlimited Potential has helped her figure out a road map to survival.

Sandra Teaches English for Survival

Sandra Amarillas has been with UP since 1994. Sandra teaches the first-year participants “survival English.” But Sandra is much more than just a teacher. As a former participant and graduate from UP’s program, she has become an invaluable confidante her class. Unit by unit, she builds skills and self-confidence in each participant.

“I have been in their shoes,” Sandra says with a knowing smile. Sandra was born in Mexico, to a family of 9 boys and 3 girls. When her father, a US citizen, and mother started moving the family to the US, they temporarily left the children in the care of the oldest sister.

Later, 5 siblings came to stay with the parents in the Phoenix area. Sandra was 8 years old at that time. She remembers well how her mom was struggling to hold down two jobs. With not much money to go around, the family depended on buying cheap clothes at the thrift store and receiving food care packages from nuns. Sandra’s oldest two brothers still live in Mexico. Sandra now has 4 children of her own and 2 grandchildren.

Against all private adversity, Sandra always projects a sunny disposition and "can-do" attitude to her class. She can fully relate to her students’ insecurities, remembering her GED course in 1993 under guidance of former Unlimited Potential director and co-founder Barbara Austin. In 1994, Sandra started volunteering in the classroom and independently taught her first class in 1995. She has been empowering women in the program every since.

“This program has opened up eyes and doors for me,” Sandra remembers. “I learned what social services are out there to help me about health care and school programs. I know what the women are going through, I was in the same shoes. I talk to them and try to make them all feel equal.”

Individual’s progress can be tremendous. “Consuela, for example, was a very shy student,” Sandra remembers. “After she opened up, it became clear that her husband did not want her to work.” But Consuela persisted, got her GED, enrolled in South Mountain college for a degree in education, and finally became a head start teacher. Successes like these are highly rewarding for Sandra. Sandra continues to advance UP’s mission. She wants to show the women that they can make something of themselves through education. And there is no better testimony for the success of her program than the teacher herself. By teaching “survival English” and more, Sandra provides a Head Start for these moms. That is crucially important, as these moms are raising America’s future.

Infant's Mother Found New Hope

Infant Teacher, Irene, reporting: A few years back, a mother brought her six-month old baby girl with her to the program. The child was smothered in blankets. She was always tied to the baby carrier and did not move. I never saw her smile. The child looked sad.

I approached the child with tenderness. I massaged her legs and arms. I exercised them gently. I approached the mother, con ternura . . . with the same tenderness I showed her child . . . Con Respeto, I told her what I was observing

Le dije. . . she was welcome to accept or to reject my perspective. I explored their relationship with her and then I told her - I believe a daughter is a gift - un hija es un regalo. I suggested, en el futuro. . . in the future, your daughter will return your kindness, ESPECIALLY, especially, in the mother’s old age.

Me escucho, she listened - thoughtfully. Luego lloro, tearfully she agreed, “I need to change.” She began to invest time and love in her daughter. This response changed their lives - forever.

Era un cambio notable, the change was visible. Ahora, ella es una madre diferente! She is a different mother from the one that first came to Unlimited Potential. I feel great satisfaction having invested a tiny grain of support.

To this day, the mother expresses her infinite gratitude to Unlimited Potential. She said, that what she learned at Unlimited Potential will help her with her newborn son. Aprendio mucho.

Maria, UP's Phenomenal Preschool Teacher

“When I was young, I wanted to be a teacher,” Maria Rivera remembers. But her father had different dreams. He wanted her to become a lawyer. Eventually, Maria’s childhood wish came true. She turned out to be a fabulous teacher for Unlimited Potential. She has been teaching UP’s children for almost 10 years.

Maria cares for and instructs the preschool children at UP. “Can you tell I like kids?” she asks smartly smiling. Maria teaches her students a well-rounded program in letters, numbers, and shapes, both in English and Spanish, selecting a different topic of focus each week. Maria structures the school day according to a daily lesson plan. Every day, Maria’s class experiences learning successes through circle time, song, games and exercise, art project, and story time activities.

Maria’s involvement with UP goes back almost 20 years. In 1989, she moved her family from Chihuahua, Mexico, to Arizona to join her husband José who had found employment here. That’s when she became friends with UP’s founder, Jeanne Devine. Maria was initially interested in UP’s work, since she had been teaching adult literacy before in Mexico.

At the time, Maria was expecting her fourth child of six, Areli. Maria and her husband, José, worked in-credibly hard to keep their family together. UP helped the family to orientate themselves to the new culture.

When Maria’s youngest children had matured enough, Maria enrolled herself in Sandra’s first year class in the fall of 1989. In spring of 1999, she earned her GED together with her husband, José.

“The GED was not so hard at all,” Maria recalled. “My husband even helped Sandra tutor the women in math,” she added. Both went on to take classes at South Mountain College. Maria has involved here whole family intermittently with UP.

As she works in the classroom, Maria is also collecting credits for a teaching certificate in early childhood education. Everybody in Maria’s family is in school. Her son is studying medicine and her daughter is finishing up her teaching degree.

Promoting Literacy and Hope

Maria speaking: When Javier came to Unlimited Potential, he was four years old. Before he was two years old, Corina’s doctor told her that he was “retarded” and that he would never learn to talk, and he would never mature to his chronological age.

When I met them, Corina had accepted what the doctor said--and she acted accordingly. She didn’t interact with Javier; she didn’t treat him like she treated her other children. I, on the other hand, gave him new words to pronounce everyday, and I helped him repeat them.

I was not aware of Javier’s diagnosis. Every day, I modeled for him, and, he responded. He was so proud . . . and so positive. He pronounced and repeated words. He enjoyed finger painting, using chalk to write and draw, and mimicking my pronunciation. He was a good student.

I think Javier liked the attention he was getting. His mother observed his learning and was encouraged. So I engaged her help. Le dije that she played a key role - una parte clave y importante - in his learning. Le explique - parents know their children best; they can tap the child’s potential--and the child’s potential is unlimited.

His mother was motivated. She took charge, invested extended time, added new words to his vocabulary every day. We had great results. Eventually, Javier learned his colors, his shapes, his numbers. Javier is now in kindergarten.

During an Unlimited Potential intercession week Javier came to my class and said “I am talking, learning, and practicing new words every day, teacher!” I am still maestra -teacher to him. As I reflect on this experience, I see that what the doctor said - le cerro los ojos - closed the mother’s eyes to her child’s potential - the classes le abrieron los ojos or lifted the veil.

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