Maria Barajas

Petaluma Adult School


Maria D. Barajas began her education in the small, rural village where she was born in the state of Jalisco, Mexico. She attended school only through the primary years because her father died and Maria needed to assist her mother with managing the farm for the family of younger siblings. Consequently, her education was very basic and limited. Only after coming to the United States with her husband did Maria continue her schooling. However, by then she was the mother of three young children so her educational goals were about being able to become involved with her children's schooling.

Maria wanted to become part of the school environment where her children attended. Not only did she want to be able to help them with homework, but Maria also wanted to have the skills to communicate with their teachers. Learning English became her top priority. One day, Maria noticed a flyer on a bulletin board in a laundromat that told about ESL classes offered by Petaluma Adult School. Although she was working in a full-time job that began early in the day and lasted until late afternoon, Maria was determined to find time after work and while parenting her young children to also attend ESL classes.

"My path to reaching my goals of learning English began at Petaluma Adult School," says Maria in describing her ability to successfully communicate and become part of her community in the United States. "My first teacher, Carol Waxman (currently adult school principal) made me feel welcome. She knew I worked and had young children so couldn't always attend class, but she encouraged me to come to class when I could. She treated me with great respect." That respect and encouragement gave Maria confidence to study diligently even when exhausted with her busy work and parenting.

Maria had a vision for her future of completing requirements for getting a high school diploma. That necessitated her gaining English proficiency in reading and writing as well as listening and speaking. Petaluma Adult School assisted Maria to obtain a prestigious scholarship to increase her skills in English. The ESL teachers wrote recommendations that the American Language Institute at Sonoma State University reviewed and as a result Maria was granted the financial means to study in their intensive English program. Maria realized that with her new language skills, her childhood dream of obtaining a high school diploma was possible. She enrolled in the Basic Skills class offered by Petaluma Adult School while continuing to attend ESL classes.

As her English and her basic skills improved, Maria gained enough confidence to apply for a job as a bilingual instructional aide in Santa Rosa and was successful in getting hired. A requirement to keep this job included earning a high school diploma. Many times Maria worked on her assignments toward getting that diploma well into the night. She was an exemplary student. Her attendance was perfect and assignments were well done. Maria's dream was realized January 27, 2003 when she got her diploma at the Petaluma Adult School graduation ceremony. Thirty friends and family, that included her proud mother, brothers and sisters, attended the ceremony where she was also a speaker. Maria spoke about her goals to learn English and obtain her high school diploma, as well as expressing appreciation for the adult school teachers and their never-ending encouragement. They helped Maria go further with her education by recommending she enroll in the local community college. Her education continued at Santa Rosa Junior College. There she earned an Early Childhood Education certificate to become a preschool associate teacher. Maria has continued at the junior college taking regular evening classes every semester since her graduation from Petaluma Adult School. Her goals in taking these classes include getting her Associate of Arts degree in General Education so she can then transfer to a university and to obtain a teaching credential. Because of her enthusiasm and willingness to help other students, the college hired her as an aide for their ESL classes. Her roles include helping with student applications, proctoring assessments and assisting with beginning ESL classes.

Maria has become dedicated to the Petaluma Adult School community that made it possible for her "to have my dreams come true." She served on the Petaluma Adult School Advisory Committee in 2002. She has also encouraged many of her Hispanic women friends to attend the adult school. Maria explains, "I have two hearts. In one heart there is love for Mexico, the country where I was born and grew up with my family, and in one heart there is love for the United States, the country that offered me and my family opportunity for a better life." In recognizing the assistance received over the years, Maria says, "I will never forget the teachers at Petaluma Adult School. There are Carol Waxman, Nancy Emanuele, and Barbara Ramirez who supported me through my education. My goal to earn my university degree and become a teacher so that I can teach in the Petaluma School district and give back to the community in thanks for all that the community has given me is a vision I have for the future and want to continue to work toward."

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