By Nancy Gutierrez
For many students coming from another country, American schools can be not only difficult but intimidating.
With the current national focus on higher achievement of all populations of students in schools, the pressure is even greater. Take Erika Manzo-Lua for example. Erika moved to Lindsay from Michoacan, Mexico in 2002. Though she had attended school there, and even had English classes in high school, she spoke little to no English and could not write in English.
"She came into my office and said she wanted to graduate from high school as a senior," said Senior Counselor Bonnie Armstrong. "I told her she'd have to complete her English requirements and pass the CAHSEE, which had reading and writing. But she said 'I'm going to do this' she came in and found out what to do."
Erika worked hard throughout her two years at Lindsay High School. The classes she had taken in Mexico did not meet all of the California standards for high school so she had to take some classes again. Erika took no electives only required classes and classes to help her with English. Even if she could fulfill class requirements the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) would be extremely difficult to pass. The test is two days of math and English language arts testing. The test is given only in the English language and the English test involves two essay questions.
"I thought I'd never pass," Erika said. "The first time I took it I didn't know any English. I couldn't write in English. I was only here for four months."
After failing the CAHSEE the first time, Erika started attending classes after school to work on her English and prepare her for the next testing cycle. She said she begin first by trying to write simple sentences in English and reading in English. Then she would build on these sentences and started learning English as the weeks went by.
The second time Erika took the test, summer 2002, just four months after the first, she passed the math portion of the test.
"Math is my favorite subject," Erika said.
Erika received a senior award in geometry as well as from her English as a Second Language (ESL) and social science classes.
As great as it was to conquer the math portion of the senior exit exam, she knew she still needed to pass the English portion in order to graduate from high school.
"I didn't think I was going to pass English," She said. "I had to write a four paragraph essay. It is harder to learn how to write in English than to speak."
Erika would take the test in the 2003 spring semester. According to Armstrong she had taken extra classes in English and fulfilled all of her graduation requirements.
"She uses English all the time," Armstrong said. "There are so many Spanish language situations available but she made the effort to speak English."
Those efforts paid off. In 2003 at her third try at taking the exit exam, Erika passed.
"For my last essay, I had to write about something I had organized or done," Erika said. "I wrote about a party that I made for my dad."
After being in the U.S. for just two years, Erika will graduate from high school.
"It takes seven years to really learn English," Armstrong said. "I can't imagine learning a different language in two years, if I had gone somewhere or to Mexico. She was determined to graduate. She will be able to do anything she wants because she is determined and aggressive in pursuing what she wants."
Erika said what she wants to do is attend Porterville college and become a math teacher. But first she will enjoy the achievement of graduating from an American high school in two years.