Yesenia Rico

Campbell Adult and Community Education

Nominated in 2022


Yesenia Rico would always have a grand celebration for her daughter's birthday surrounded with her favorite food and other things her daughter wanted. But the year 2020 was different. She was sitting alone in her San Jose apartment reminiscing about her daughter's special day. Fond memories of her daughter made her realize how much her daughter looked up to her. Her family's financial situation had forced Yesenia to give up school and start working from a young age. She has held different jobs since she started working at age 14. Her work ethic, discipline, and dedication helped her get promotions, but she missed a lot of opportunities and could not live her dream as she was not a high school graduate. As Yesenia says, "The document speaks, and I did not have the document." Completing high school seemed far-fetched and after all these years, something or other was holding her back. During the pandemic, Yesenia realized that she could no longer make excuses for not completing her high school. Her goal was to complete high school before her daughter arrived from Mexico.

Yesenia enrolled in the high school equivalency class at Campbell Adult and Community Education (CACE) in March 2021. Going back to school after a long hiatus was a strange feeling, and to add to this misery, all her classes were fully online. This new experience interestingly gave her a lot of flexibility. She had a full-time job and went to school for 12 hours each week. The days were long, but Yesenia pushed herself and when her daughter arrived from Mexico, she was almost halfway through the HiSET tests. Her daughter, who was new to the country and was learning to speak English, would sit next to her mother and keep asking her when her online class would end. The thought of spending the evenings with her daughter motivated Yesenia to work harder and finish faster. She passed all her five HiSET tests after attending school for about seven months and she got a "college ready" score on a few of them.

Yesenia had worked so hard that after completing her HiSET tests in November 2021, she wanted to take some time off to enjoy her daughter's company. As luck would have it, the student advisor at CACE, Margarita Ortiz, talked to Yesenia about an opening for an instructional aide position at CACE. The job was a dream come true for Yesenia, as she would be working in the mornings when her daughter was in school and be back home to pick her up from school and be with her for the rest of the day. Yesenia's teachers vouched for her hard work, ethics, and willingness to help. She was hired and started her role as an instructional aide in Level 1 and Level 2 ESL classes in January 2022. Yesenia is enjoying her work and, in her words, "I am able to help someone everyday get closer to what they want to achieve." Yesenia's success story is a motivation for other students. Students in her class are happy to learn from one of their own. Yesenia is also learning a lot in her new job and is excited to continue learning new skills while being paid. Working in an ESL classroom is giving her tools to help her daughter learn to read and write English.

Yesenia wants to pursue post-secondary education. She is enjoying the fruits of her hard work while trying to figure out what she wants to do next.

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