Elk Grove Adult and Community Education
Nominated in 2016
Jagroop Kaur is a wife, mother, daughter, student and employee. She has persevered through numerous barriers including: linguistic, cultural, and gender limitations to become a highly valued and contributing member of our adult education community.
From Punjab, a state in north India, Jagroop was married and a mother of two when she came to the United States of America. She arrived on June 15, 2004 when her husband brought her and her son to the United States. She had mixed emotions about coming because she left behind her family, friends, and most importantly her daughter, but she was excited to see the new country that she had been waiting for years to see.
Soon after her arrival she had a terrible experience at a bank. Her husband pushed her ahead of him to talk to the teller. She was shocked. She couldn’t understand the American accent and couldn’t utter a word. She felt so ashamed and her husband smiled at her almost spitefully because she couldn’t speak or understand English, even though all of her education had been taught in English. She felt “like a big fat zero” in front of her spouse.
Soon after this occasion, Jag had to send her son back to India because she had no family here and couldn’t afford baby-sitting. Jag wanted to enjoy this free country, but she was in agony, feeling unbearably lonely without her children.
Soon, however, Jag gathered herself up. She saw some women from the neighborhood going to an elementary school to learn English, and she followed them to the school to enroll. She took a placement test and was directed to the main campus, Elk Grove Adult and Community Education (EGACE) for orientation in November 2005. While she was waiting to be registered her eyes took everything in, her brain was spinning, and her heart was talking to her. “Oh, God! I want to be fortunate like these people who work here. Is this place for me? It would be wonderful if I could be here.”
Jagroop enrolled in advanced ESL classes in 2005 at EGACE. She was dropped off at school at 7:45 AM every day by her husband. She took the bus home at 5:00 PM. If she was late getting to the bus she would have to wait an extra hour for the next bus to arrive. Sometimes while waiting there alone she would cry and question why she was here, what she was doing here alone without her children, what type of mother she was, and what and to whom did she want to prove herself.
Jag remembers how fortunate she felt to be in school full-time. Her loneliness was mitigated by her teachers and her classmates. She was at a good place and in good hands. These were people who were nurturing and caring. They shared in her happiness and sadness. As time passed, her school became her second home where she also took a listening/speaking class, as well as a computer class. The computer class was especially exciting because such classes were far too expensive in India for her to access.
Her ESL teacher Diane said, “The quality that I remember most about her was her determination to succeed. Almost daily, she would come to ask how she could get a job.” She needed to prove to her husband that his permission to attend school would have results—quickly. Another reason for her determination was that she was forced to leave her children in India to be raised by her parents-in-law.
The rest of Jag’s journey can only be conveyed in her words:
These positive inspirational things were keeping me here and motivating me to do something productive with my degree earned in India. My teacher, Ms. Diane was/is awesome. She helped me to grow out of my boundaries. One day, I told her that I want to be a teacher in the USA. Teaching is a passion that was born in me. She suggested that I take the “NCLB-No Child Left Behind” test so that I could become a paraeducator. I passed the test with her help and trust.
Then, she recommended me for an Instructional Assistant position for family literacy ESL classes offered by the Elk Grove Adult School. Instead, they needed baby-sitters for a couple of sites, so I accepted the offer and became a baby-sitter. There I always volunteered to help site teachers to enroll and translate for Punjabi people and others. I attended my day time classes and went to work in the evenings. Coming to school was like food for my soul. I could have stopped, but I didn’t. This school was holding me up during my down times.
Subsequently, I moved forward one step after another. The staff was very helpful and cooperative. Then, I got some more hours because of my flexibility to help with filing in the office. The staff members encouraged me to take a typing test so I could assist them during orientations. They saw some capabilities in me and liked my good work.
You know what, slowly and steadily my dream was turning into reality. I was working full-time, but on a temporary basis. But, I had faith in me and the school, so I never said “no” to any job assignments and I worked hard to learn new skills and develop my potential. Eventually, there was an opening for a Staff Service Technician position, SST. I applied for the job with positive attitude and great energy.
I have to share this with you. By this time, my husband was proud of me for working at this school. He was proud that I didn’t give-up my hopes, but kept focused on a future. He bought me a new $100 black suit, a white shirt, and a pearl necklace with earrings for my first official interview for the SST position. Good heavens, now, I had to pass the interview because of his high hopes for me. I couldn’t let him down especially when he had invested money in my clothing.
I was enormously nervous because of that expensive suit and because I had to compete with American people. But I nailed the interview! My principal, Kathy Hamilton, hugged me with pride and smiled after the interview.
In 2006, I was hired as a permanent SST, but my thirst for teaching was still there. My family and my husband’s family were proud of me working as a permanent employee at EGACE. It’s a big thing for immigrants to land a well-regarded job.
I talked to Diane and Kathy, about getting a teaching credential. Again, it was my EGACE family who showed me the path and recognized my potential. I took the CBEST exam and started subbing for my school. Then, they helped me to get a permanent adult education credential and this year, I have a class of my own. I teach beginning level English language learners. I hope that soon I can become a full-time teacher.
I am lucky to be a part of my school because every time they have shown me the “enter” door, but never let me go to the “exit” door.
Last year, I came back from India and was able to bring my children to the USA with the financial and moral support of my school. The teachers and staff lifted me, helped me, and supported me all the way down this rocky road of my life. My school has provided me with tools and helped me learn the skills to grow professionally and personally.
There are millions of people out in the world with degrees and skills looking for an opportunity to shine who nobody sees because of this cut-throat, competitive world, but I got the platform as a student right here at Elk Grove Adult and Community Education. Being a teacher, I hope I can help others to get their opportunity to reach for their stars just like me.
Jag gives everyone at EGACE credit for her accomplishments, but it is through her determination that she has been able to become a teacher and a U.S. citizen who gives back enthusiastically and without reservation to her community every day. Her next goal is to become a full-time adult education teacher!
Leaving her children broke her heart—still she persevered to reach her goal. She was first hired as a babysitter, became an instructional assistant, and then was hired as a temporary office assistant. Soon she became a full-time office worker who now helps all ESL students.
Jagroop has also become an ESL teacher, teaching Citizenship and ESL. She empathizes with our students, giving them encouragement and guidance. She’s referred to as “Super Jag” because she runs the ESL office section, teaches, and volunteers to sub at any time in any class—there is nothing she won’t do for Elk Grove Adult and Community Education. Her co-workers are her family.
Through her determination she has been able to become a teacher and a U.S. citizen who gives back enthusiastically and without reservation to her community every day. Her next goal is to become a full-time adult education teacher!