Literacy program gives adults a second chance at an education

Growing up in Mexico, school was never an option for Gabriel Echeverria. When he moved to Pescadero, the 66-year-old found work at a local flower nursery where literacy wasn’t an issue.

But today, Echeverria is well on his way to earning his elementary school certificate through Plaza Comunitaria, 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 expatriates an opportunity to earn a “primaria” (elementary) or “secondaria” (middle school) degree.

Three years into his studies with a tutor at Puente, Echeverria can read and write in Spanish. He staffs La Sala, Puente’s biweekly social hour for local fieldworkers; his job is to keep track of attendance, and inventory the supplies Puente donates. Echeverria says his new arithmetic skills have come in handy there. And importantly, Echeverria is one of Puente’s longest serving board members.

Gabriel Echeverria, with his tutor, Cristina Salgado

“I first joined Plaza Comunitaria to learn more words, but what I’ve gained from studying is bigger,” says Echeverria. “I feel more confident and more motivated. I feel important, like now I know how to do things.”

Because they’re starting from scratch, it can take years for students to earn a certificate of literacy from Plaza Comunitaria. Once they learn to read, they learn other subjects by reading textbooks on health, social studies and Mexican history.

Puente is tutoring eight students right now. Ostensibly, the goal of Plaza Comunitaria is to help Mexicans prepare for a better future if they return to Mexico. But people do it for all kinds of reasons, says Rita Mancera, program director for Puente.

“People have completed the program, but it doesn’t mean they get a better job or they get a raise – it’s because they want to be a role model for their children. It’s something they want do for their own sake, for their own dreams,” she says.

Kassi Talbot, Learning Center Assistant for Puente, would like to see more students enroll. She says Plaza Comunitaria not only changes a person’s self-image, it challenges stereotypes about Mexican immigrants.

I think helping them get an education is one the best things we can do,” she says.

Funding for the Project is provided in part by the Silicon Valley Community Foundaton and IME Becas. For more information about Plaza Comunitaria or other Puente literacy programs or to make a donation, contact Kassi Talbot at or (650) 879-1691 x 138.

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