Centreville Student Ana-Lycia Pena was just about to sing the last word of the National Anthem during Mountain View High’s graduation last Friday at Oakton High, when the auditorium went dark.
A driver had struck an electric pole in front of the school, knocking out all power to the building. But that didn’t faze the students of Mountain View. They’re used to dealing with obstacles, adapting to new circumstances and, ultimately, succeeding.
So no one panicked or complained. Instead, while electricians worked to solve the problem, the ceremony moved across the hall to the gym, which had emergency lights. And there, things went off without a hitch.
“We’re extremely proud of your accomplishments,” Principal Dave Jagels told the students. “I’ve seen your struggles and how you came to this school not able to speak English. I’ve seen you take two jobs to support your families and work with teachers on Saturdays to achieve your goals.”
“I’m blown away, completely amazed and humbled to be at a school that gives students a second chance,” he continued. “This is why we go into education — to help hardworking and dedicated students like you.”
Then, in keeping with Mountain View tradition, three graduating students shared their personal stories. Speaking first June 14 was Delsidia Avelar.
“I come from a humble home in El Salvador and a family of eight,” she said. “My dad lives in the U.S. and my mom has diabetes and anemia so, growing up, I had to help her.”
But the family needed more money so, at age 16, Avelar came to America where friends had a job for her. She went to high school, too. “But I wasn’t learning anything because I wasn’t putting in the effort or
getting support from my parents and teachers,” she said. “I felt like I was alone in the world.”
So she quit school and, two months later, got pregnant. “I cried myself to sleep and got no support from the father of my child,” said Avelar. “I felt like a total failure, went into depression and even thought about suicide.”
Overcome with emotion, tears rolled down her cheeks and she stopped speaking. Then a girl in the audience yelled out, “You can do it,” everyone applauded and Avelar continued. In her condition, she said, she didn’t want to go to work or leave the house, but she began meeting with a social worker.
“I now had a second baby, so I had to go back to school so I could get a better job later on,” she said. “The social worker gave me information about Mountain View, and I was happy because I’d be with students my own age. I never got along with my teachers until Mountain View.”
When Avelar first started there, she said, “I had to look up almost every word in the dictionary to understand it. I thought I’d graduate in 2015, so I pushed myself to learn English to graduate faster.” Within months, she advanced to ESOL 3 and then to ESOL 4.
“I’m now more mature and more capable of making choices good for me and for the future, not just for the moment,” she said. “I’m confident I can accomplish what I want and give my sons a better life. Thank you, Mountain View.”
Next at the podium was Ada Ramirez, 24, who described herself as a “friend, daughter, wife and mother of three.” From a small village in El Salvador, she grew up in poverty. First, her dad left the family for the U.S.; then when she was 11, her mother did, too.
“My heart fell out of me,” said Ramirez, in tears. “I couldn’t understand why she had to leave. I felt abandoned, with no hope. And as the oldest daughter, I had to take care of my younger siblings. But in El Salvador there’s a saying, ‘Do what you have to do’ to survive.”
So at age 13, she and her brothers also headed for America, but it was a tough and perilous trip. “It was a long journey and I walked barefoot part of the way,” she said. “But after no sleep and some danger, my brothers and I entered the U.S.”
Attending high school, Ramirez met her future husband, Luis, and had a son. Some 18 months later, she was pregnant again; and when their oldest child was 3, the family moved to Virginia. She heard about Mountain View and enrolled.
“School was challenging — especially since I was pregnant for the third time,” she said. “I was working 24 hours a day as a wife, mother and student. But Mountain View dramatically changed my life. It’s a school with a family atmosphere where students are treated with love and respect — and where students not born speaking English get all the support they need.”
Now, she’s planning to become an elementary-school teacher. Yet back then, said Ramirez, it would have been easy to give up. “But I didn’t, because of my school, my family and my faith,” she said. “When I was 12, I was a mother to my brothers; and now I’ve learned, you have to do what it takes to reach your goals.”
When she was younger, Jamie Frear was a follower, not a leader. “I was making poor choices and, at age 15, I was pregnant,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it. I took eight pregnancy tests, but it still didn’t feel real. I felt alone, embarrassed and ashamed of what I’d done. I hid it from my friends, and I was tired and sick and couldn’t focus on my classes.”
With three years of school left, she knew her base school wouldn’t be best for her. “I wanted a new place so I could have a fresh start and concentrate on school and my future,” she said. At Mountain View, counselor Sue Houde welcomed her and told her about the school’s pregnant and parenting students program.
“School was much better here; chemistry was my favorite subject,” said Frear. “I took assignments home and worked hard. I made friends and worked part-time and the feeling of aloneness was gone.”
She, too, wants to teach elementary school and knows she must make wise choices to achieve her objective and make a good life for her daughter, Abigail. “I’ve learned that, if you focus on the negative, things will stay that way,” said Frear. “But you have to focus on the future, and I’m ready to keep moving forward.”