For Immediate Release
June 5, 2017
Maria Bueno didn’t picture herself in college when she enrolled her daughter in LCC's Head Start program.
Nor did she ever imagine, as an elementary school student in Longview who was ridiculed for being “dark,” that she would end up becoming an educator in the same school years later. Yet that's precisely what she's done, in spite of overwhelming cultural, financial, and other barriers in her life.
As the oldest child with parents who don't speak English, Maria has taken on the role of chief communicator for the family. She has interacted with schools, healthcare professionals, and other service providers on behalf of her loved ones since shortly after moving here at age seven. Before her arrival, the only English words she knew were “window” and “door.”
When she had her first child at age 19, Maria's father was less than pleased. A self-described rebel, Maria wanted to prove to him that she could do more than change diapers. So when a Head Start employee encouraged her to think about college, she jumped at the chance to further her education.
Maria relied on many of the services LCC provides for support along the way to earning her AAS in Early Childhood Education—with honors—last summer.
In addition to signing up for the Head Start Parent Opportunity Program (POP), Maria enrolled in LCC's I-BEST program and got extra academic support there. She also took advantage of student daycare, open computer labs, TRiO's Student Support Services program, and the LCC Career Center.
In spite of the support, there were still bumps along the way to earning her associate degree. When a leaky roof threatened to derail Maria's progress, LCC faculty member Ann Williamson and her husband came to the rescue and helped with the repair. When a dead car battery and various family emergencies disrupted Maria's life, Ann and other LCC faculty provided the necessary flexibility to keep things on track.
Maria was the first person in her extended family to enroll in college, and the impact of her decision on her relatives has been substantial.
Three of her cousins, and a spouse of a cousin, have followed Maria to LCC. One is even pursuing a similar career pathway. While working on their English requirements for LCC, the cousins formed an informal cohort which greatly contributed to their mutual success. Maria fondly recalls at least a few all-night study sessions when the academic pressure mounted.
Even after her second child was born, Maria’s role as unofficial family advocate has continued. She recently helped a troubled younger brother find a better path. She located a program to help her boyfriend complete his high school diploma. She helped two of her siblings find work. She continues to assist her father, who has been unable to work for 12 years due to a serious illness, with his healthcare needs. During a recent appointment for him, Maria agonizingly had to translate the phrase, “you’re going to die” multiple times.
Maria's father's healthcare issues have clearly reached a critical point, and he's in desperate need of a new kidney. Maria is anxiously awaiting an appointment to find out if she's an acceptable match. Donating an organ to her father would bring her childbearing years to an end, a sacrifice Maria is willing to make if it will help her family. While she waits for the test results, she's trying to hydrate and eat well to prepare for possible transplant surgery.
Maria's commitment to do right by her family is her primary motivation in life.
This is especially true when it comes to her children. She hates to see them suffer, like they did when the heat in their rental house went out. Maria currently works the dinner shift at a local restaurant several nights a week, in addition to her full-time position as a para-educator with the Longview School District, just to make ends meet.
“The late nights are hard, but I really need those tips,” she says.
Maria's desire to provide stability and security for her children pushes her onward, even when she's feeling overwhelmed by her responsibilities.
On her quest to be a role model, nurturer, and provider for her extended family, Maria is continuing her educational journey in addition to holding down two jobs.
For now, she is working on finishing requirements for a transfer degree in Early Childhood Education from LCC. Eventually, Maria hopes to transition to an online bachelor's program, like the one City University offers through the Lower Columbia Regional University Center in Longview.
In spite of Maria's commitment to her “family before anything” mantra, or perhaps because of it, she struggles with guilt over attending college and being employed outside the home. It helps to think about how much she's helping the children she works with, who frequently wrestle with their own feelings of shame because of the language barriers they face. In the end, all she has to do is think about her own children to know that she's doing the right thing.
“For my children,” she says, “it is all definitely worth it.”
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