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A student success story in any language

By John Newton
La Voz Latina

When Daniela Rodriguez and her mother moved to Brunswick, Georgia five years ago from Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Mexico, she was amazed by how quiet her new home seemed. Tuxtla is the capital city of Chiapas located on the southern tip of Mexico near the Guatemalan border and has a population of over a half million residents.

“Brunswick just felt so small and peaceful,” she said. “It wasn’t a bad thing, but I spent the first 11 years of my life in a big city so the change seemed very dramatic.”

Like many immigrant families who arrived before them, Daniela and her mother move to South Georgia in search of economic opportunity.

“My sister had established a good business here cleaning houses so my mother decided to have us join her,” Daniela said.
In the five years she has lived here, Daniela hasn’t changed a lot physically. She is still very petite with a shy gentle smile
and large dark eyes that light up when she speaks.

Like many new immigrants to this country, the biggest adjustment for Daniela came when her mother enrolled her in the 7th grade.

“When I arrived, I could not speak English,” she said. “I just knew a few words like numbers and colors. It was so scary to sit there in class and not understand a single word my teacher was saying. I had been an honor student in Mexico but when we moved to Brunswick, I got my first “F” for failing a subject.

Remarkably, in spite of the seemingly insurmountable language barrier, Daniela took the standardized CRCT tests given to seventh graders and earned passing marks in mathematics and science.

She continued to study hard during the summer break and refused to give in to the feelings of despair that threatened to engulf her.

“My first year here was very frustrating,” she said. “ It was a slow process but I refused to give up. I would come home from school and see how hard my mother was working to give me a good home. Some days I could see that she was exhausted from her own work as a housekeeper but she insisted on doing the cooking and cleaning in our home so I could concentrate on my homework.”

By the time Daniela finished her 9th grade year at Brunswick’s historic Glynn Academy, she no longer required any language help and turned her attention toward helping others.

After mastering English, Daniela turned her sights to a new language- Japanese – and has just completed her third semester studying that language.

“I became pen-pals with a girl in Japan,” Daniela said. “It’s been lots of fun for each of us to practice a new language by exchanging letters with each other.”

Diane Runkle is a veteran ESOL teacher in the Glynn County Public Schools and has developed a special bond with Daniela Rodriguez.

“She is definitely one my ESOL success stories,” Runkle said. “The thing that I appreciate most about Daniela is her willingness to help other students. She has been a valuable resource for the younger Hispanic students because of her bilingual skills as well as her understanding of math and science. She has been an inspiration and motivation for many of them.”

Daniela currently carries a 3.8 grade-point-average out of a possible 4.0 and she will graduate with extra credits earned from passing seven advanced placement (AP) classes. These credits should allow her to be exempt from taking some of the core classes that most freshmen college students are required to take.

Later this month, Daniela will join several hundred of her senior classmates as Glynn Academy graduates its senior class of 2013. Among many other honors, Daniela will be recognized as an honor student, an outstanding senior and a student-of-the-month.

There is no denying that Daniela possesses all the academic skills to succeed in college. She has been accepted by Agnes Scott University, a private Liberal Arts College for women located in the Atlanta suburb of Decatur, Georgia and also by Armstrong Atlantic State University in Savannah.

The big question mark for Daniela is whether or not she will win enough scholarship money to continue her education…

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