a stormy day, years ago, a very wet little boy holding
the hand of a frightened little girl, entered my office
and asked, in Spanish, "Is this a school?"
That is how I met Alvaro Pirir," remembers Meredith
Hystad, Student Services Aide at San Mateo Adult School.
refugees, his family had recently arrived in San Mateo
from Guatemala. Traumatized by Guatemalan civil war
experiences, afraid of this new land, and unable to
communicate, his mother hid in their apartment with
the four children," continues Meredith. "Finally,
Alvaro, at 14, decided that his younger sister and brother
should be in school. On the day I met him, he had wandered
the streets with his little sister in tow, seeking directions
to a school, until he found the San Mateo Adult School.
Now armed with the information be needed, he thanked
me and went back out into the rain on his mission to
the elementary school district." Alvaro and Meredith
quickly became friends, and she continued, "to
help him negotiate the rules and regulations of the
later he appeared again, this time, beaming," says
younger brother and sister are in school," Alvaro
told her, "My older brother and I have jobs. Now,
I can go to school, too!"
enrolled in high school, but soon learned that he would
not be allowed to work full time while a high school
student. He worked two jobs until he was 18, and then
entered the adult school ESL program to improve the
English he had learned on his own. When he entered our
Adult Learning Center to study the high school English
and mathematics he had missed, he was reading at the
third grade level. Teacher Jan Becker recognized the
potential of this bright and determined young man. She
gave him special guidance in his Basic Reading and Basic
Math classes, helping him to learn how to approach the
challenges of effective studying and test taking. Under
her tutelage, Alvaro raised his reading level from third
grade to ninth grade in only four years. His math skills,
which were minimal when be began studying with her,
increased dramatically. By the time he finished his
work with her, he had attained a GED and had the confidence
to enter the College of San Mateo."
to enter the nursing program at the college, but discovered
that it required a GED, so he returned to the adult
school to complete the GED program while still taking
college classes and working. He was driven, and sometimes
needed a gentle reminder to be patient and to treat
himself more gently. These reminders came from the encouragement
of dedicated staff like ESL Coordinator Tim Doyle, teacher
Mary Peros, and his friend Meredith.
Alvaro won the Luis Blum Memorial Scholarship, which
salutes "the pioneering spirit" of "those
who strive to make life better for themselves and future
generations in the United States of America". This
scholarship paid for his books for two semesters at
College of San Mateo.
Alvaro and his two brothers pooled their money and bought
a small house in Hayward, CA. He continues to work and
study with the goals of becoming a registered nurse,
earning a Bachelor's degree from San Francisco State
College, and then, if he can save enough money, go on
to medical school to become a physician.
has helped support his mother as she adjusted to a new
country, he encouraged his siblings to pursue education
and work together for a common goal, and he set ambitious
goals for himself and accomplished them. Six years ago,
he didn't know one word of English. Today, he is well
on his way to being a registered nurse and earning an
Associate of Arts degree. His easy grin and eternally
positive attitude infect everyone he meets."
What a happy
accident that Alvaro first wandered into the San Mateo
Adult School!" says Meredith. "This positive
and flexible environment has made it possible for him
to study despite his demanding work schedules. He has
benefited from the kindness and patience of his ESL
teachers, who taught him how to communicate in his new
language. And under the guidance of his Adult Learning
Center teachers, he learned how to study and prepare
busy with college classes and working, Alvaro still
finds time periodically to visit us, update us on his
progress, and thank us."