San Mateo Adult School
"On a stormy day, years ago, a very wet little boy holding the hand of a frightened little girl, entered my office and asked, in Spanish, "Is this a school?" That is how I met Alvaro Pirir," remembers Meredith Hystad, Student Services Aide at San Mateo Adult School.
"Political refugees, his family had recently arrived in San Mateo from Guatemala. Traumatized by Guatemalan civil war experiences, afraid of this new land, and unable to communicate, his mother hid in their apartment with the four children," continues Meredith. "Finally, Alvaro, at 14, decided that his younger sister and brother should be in school. On the day I met him, he had wandered the streets with his little sister in tow, seeking directions to a school, until he found the San Mateo Adult School. Now armed with the information be needed, he thanked me and went back out into the rain on his mission to the elementary school district." Alvaro and Meredith quickly became friends, and she continued, "to help him negotiate the rules and regulations of the school districts."
"Months later he appeared again, this time, beaming," says Meredith.
"My younger brother and sister are in school," Alvaro told her, "My older brother and I have jobs. Now, I can go to school, too!"
"He enrolled in high school, but soon learned that he would not be allowed to work full time while a high school student. He worked two jobs until he was 18, and then entered the adult school ESL program to improve the English he had learned on his own. When he entered our Adult Learning Center to study the high school English and mathematics he had missed, he was reading at the third grade level. Teacher Jan Becker recognized the potential of this bright and determined young man. She gave him special guidance in his Basic Reading and Basic Math classes, helping him to learn how to approach the challenges of effective studying and test taking. Under her tutelage, Alvaro raised his reading level from third grade to ninth grade in only four years. His math skills, which were minimal when be began studying with her, increased dramatically. By the time he finished his work with her, he had attained a GED and had the confidence to enter the College of San Mateo."
Alvaro wanted to enter the nursing program at the college, but discovered that it required a GED, so he returned to the adult school to complete the GED program while still taking college classes and working. He was driven, and sometimes needed a gentle reminder to be patient and to treat himself more gently. These reminders came from the encouragement of dedicated staff like ESL Coordinator Tim Doyle, teacher Mary Peros, and his friend Meredith.
In 2003, Alvaro won the Luis Blum Memorial Scholarship, which salutes "the pioneering spirit" of "those who strive to make life better for themselves and future generations in the United States of America". This scholarship paid for his books for two semesters at College of San Mateo.
"Recently, Alvaro and his two brothers pooled their money and bought a small house in Hayward, CA. He continues to work and study with the goals of becoming a registered nurse, earning a Bachelor's degree from San Francisco State College, and then, if he can save enough money, go on to medical school to become a physician.
"Alvaro has helped support his mother as she adjusted to a new country, he encouraged his siblings to pursue education and work together for a common goal, and he set ambitious goals for himself and accomplished them. Six years ago, he didn't know one word of English. Today, he is well on his way to being a registered nurse and earning an Associate of Arts degree. His easy grin and eternally positive attitude infect everyone he meets."
What a happy accident that Alvaro first wandered into the San Mateo Adult School!" says Meredith. "This positive and flexible environment has made it possible for him to study despite his demanding work schedules. He has benefited from the kindness and patience of his ESL teachers, who taught him how to communicate in his new language. And under the guidance of his Adult Learning Center teachers, he learned how to study and prepare for examinations."
"Now, busy with college classes and working, Alvaro still finds time periodically to visit us, update us on his progress, and thank us."