Monday, September 11, 2017

Learner to Earner: Tania Peña

As San Mateo Adult School Students gain knowledge, skills, and confidence, they join the work force, advance in their jobs, and engage in volunteer work.  The Learner to Earner page on the San Mateo Adult School website is about their success.  Here's another story in the series.

Tania Peña

Tania moved here from Venezuela in August 2013.  Two months later, she began taking classes at the Adult School.  Now she works for the San Mateo Union High School District as a bus driver.  She is expanding her horizons, taking more classes while she works and takes care of her children.  How did she go from from new immigrant to community contributor, from student to staff?   Teacher Cynthia sat down with Tania at break time on the SMAS campus to hear her story.

“Imagine You Are Deaf”

“Everything in the US felt too big,” Tania explained.  “Imagine you are deaf,” she said.  “You can’t understand anything.”  The first time she and her older daughter took BART they got lost.  They couldn’t understand the announcements over the loudspeaker or read the information.  Tania knew she needed help to navigate life in the United States as an immigrant and mother.  She needed Adult Education!

“Just English”

When Tania started at the Adult School, her goal was “just to learn English.”  But once on the campus and in class, “Wow!  I saw so many choices.”  She took the Job Class - Passport to Employment - with Jay and Carolyn Lee.  And she took the Writing Intensive Class with Mary Peros.

A Second Home

The San Mateo Adult School became a second home for Tania.  “It’s like a brotherhood,” she said.  “People struggling with the same problems.  You feel that you are not the only one.  You feel hope.  People are close.”

“Not Just Learning English”

“When you are here, you are not just learning English, not just things in the book,” Tania explained.  “You are learning community.  You are learning the idiosyncrasies of the culture.”

Supportive Teachers and Students

Tania said SMAS teachers were very supportive.  “Many teachers,” she said, “like Jay… they do more than they have to do.  They go the extra mile.”  Tania supported in return, helping her classmates prepare and look their best for Job Fairs.  

Like Mother, Like Children

Tania is the mother of four children.  Her oldest daughter followed her into Adult School and took ESL classes, also.   Just like her mother, she felt more confident after taking ESL classes.  All of Tania’s children are in school - two in college, one in high school, one in middle school.  They follow her example and pursue an education and their dreams.

Education Continues

Tania continues to pursue education and grow her skill set.  She is taking classes at the College of San Mateo in computer office technology.  CSM recommended that she attend the SMAS High School diploma program.  Through her work in the HSD program, she is gaining the thirty five credits she needs to have her high school diploma from Venezuela validated.  

A Sense of Belonging

Tania enjoys her class at CSM but she says the college doesn’t have the closeness of the Adult School.  She stops talking to look around at the SMAS campus.   “This school is really good.  The campus is beautiful.  The plaza… “ She grows quiet looking around her at the students meeting and greeting at breaktime.  “Many times you feel sad,” she explains.  She gestures to the plaza, filled with students at breaktime.  “This is the moment,” she says, “to meet, to make friends.  Many people here have a lot of trauma.”
She pauses again.   “Here, you feel you belong.”  

Taking Chances

As a new immigrant to the United States, Tania looked for a job.  Many didn’t pay well enough to support her family.  Then she saw a job poster on Humboldt Avenue.  The First Students Bus Company was offering a class in how to drive a bus.   Tania took a chance to enroll in the class.  “I never pictured myself as a bus driver.  I was scared.  But I said, ‘I can do this.’”   Out of twenty four students, she was the only one to graduate.   

Moving Forward

Tania worked for the First Student Bus Company for a year and then applied to drive a bus for the San Mateo Union High School District.  She started as a sub and is now a regular driver, working part-time.   She drives all over the area, taking students to all the high schools in the district - Capuchino, San Mateo, Mills, etc.  She also drives a bookmobile bus for the San Mateo Public Library.  As a bus driver, immigrant, student, and mom, Tania is moving forward!

Advice for Others

I asked Tania what her advice would be for new students at San Mateo Adult School.  Here is what she shared:

  • Set a goal
  • Make a plan
  • Be relaxed.  It takes time.
  • Go step by step.
  • Keep going but always with a goal.
  • Be persistent.
  • Be organized.
  • Be positive.
  • Open your eyes - there are many resources but not always in the same place.
  • Be a good researcher - look for resources and people who can help you.

Thank you, Tania, for taking the time to share your experience with others.  Your story inspires others to succeed!

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