Veronica Rivera never got past elementary school growing up. But if she had, she’d have been at the top of her class.
“She’s a really good student. She is always studying,” says Puente Program Director Rita Mancera, of Rivera.
Rivera is 37 and has four children, ranging from preschool to high school. In December 2011 she graduated from elementary school and in October, she graduated from middle school thanks to Puente – slightly ahead of her second-oldest son, who is in 8th grade.
Now, thanks to a scholarship from the Institute of Mexicans Abroad (IME) Becas, Rivera is preparing for high school – that is, she’s going to study for her GED, and will be tutored by volunteers at Puente.
“I like to study. The GED is hard work but I think I can do it,” says Rivera, who lives in La Honda.
Rivera is the first Puente student to complete her Plaza Comunitaria curriculum, a program Puente offers in concert with the National Institute for Adult Education in Mexico.
The literacy program, offered by a growing number of schools and organizations in the U.S., gives Mexican expatriates an opportunity to earn a “primaria” (elementary) and/or “secondaria” (middle school) degree.
It took Rivera less than a year and a half to complete the whole program, according to Mancera.
And why did she do it?
“I have one daughter in high school, in 11th grade, and one son in 8th grade,” she explains. “When they went to middle school they said, ‘Mom, can you help me do my homework?’ When they were in 3rd and 4th grade, I could help them. But when they went to 6th grade it was very difficult. I said. ‘I think I need to study again. I need to help my kids.”
Rivera never made it out of elementary school as a young girl, because she chose to stay home to care for her ailing mother and other siblings in Mexico.
But she scored very high on a diagnostic test administered to place Plaza Comunitaria students on the right academic track. Students don’t just learn to read – they learn other subjects by reading textbooks on health, social studies and Mexican history.
“That’s what I like about the system – it validates all the things you have already learned in life,” says Mancera, Puente’s Program Director.
Rivera (married name Carmona) is now known as the “Pride of Plaza Comunitaria.” She was even interviewed on 1010 AM, a Spanish-language Bay Area radio station, for a show called Hecho en California (“Made in California”).
Kassi Talbot, Puente’s Learning Center Associate, was the person who persuaded Rivera to enroll in classes in spite of her many commitments at home. Rivera studied with a Puente tutor two hours a week but did everything else on her own.
No one doubts Rivera will earn her GED in record time. The question is, what’s next?
“I think I’m going to college,” she says.
Funding for this project is provided in part by the Silicon Valley Community Foundation and Institute of Mexicans Abroad (IME) Becas. For more information about Plaza Comunitaria or other Puente literacy programs or to make a donation, contact Kassi Talbot at firstname.lastname@example.org or (650) 879-1691 x 138.