When Mariella Rodriguez was in Uruguay, she never liked English. In high school, she hated studying English. She never needed nor saw the need for English, until four years ago, when she came to America with her husband and found herself struggling to learn the language and live a normal life.
Mariella had followed her husband to various countries for his job. However, all those countries were Spanish speaking countries. She even handled all the paperwork. Conversely, when she came to America, she was limited in what she could do in English. This was a problem.
In talking with a friend, they both agreed that they needed to learn English and even found a class to attend. However, she never went. It was not until fate that allowed her to meet an ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) instructor that motivated her to step into a classroom. Mariella recalls when she first met Jin Chang at a garage sale. “She came up to me and tried to talk to me. I told her that I do not speak English very well. She told me that she could teach me English. She said that she was an ESOL teacher on Tuesdays and Thursdays at Jefferson Forest High School. She gave me a flyer and told me to come to class. I went to class and learned English.”
The 2017-2018 school year was very productive for Mariella Rodriguez. In fall of 2017, Mariella started attending ESOL classes sponsored by Bedford County Public Schools through ACE. Mariella took classes at Jefferson Forest High School and became comfortable speaking English. She enjoyed her teacher and her classmates. There was a sense of camaraderie in the class which made her feel great. As Mariella recalls: “I felt secure because my teacher made me feel comfortable. I did not feel judged but could speak with confidence to her and my classmates. We had fun. We laughed at each other's stories and it felt like it was an adventure to hear about other places in the world.”
For Mariella, so much has changed. “I am proud of myself!" She exclaims. "I can now speak English. I have confidence to do more and more because I have better communication skills. I can speak English and ask for help. If I have a problem with my phone, I can go to the phone store and ask the employee for help. Life is so different.” Mariella also became a naturalized citizen in December 2017. In addition, her company, D’Masa, received a contract from Wegmans to supply Alfajores (a Uruguayan pastry) to six supermarkets. “In class, we studied comparison words such as good, better, and best as well as bad, worse, and worst,” Mariella remembers. During her interview with Wegmans, she was able to say with grammatical confidence that her cookies are the best Alfajores in all of Virginia.
She shares more about how life has changed for the better: “My husband told me, ‘You changed. You are better at speaking English.’ Today, he offered to come with me to the dentist to translate. I told him, ‘No, I can go by myself.’ I can now go to the Toyota dealership to fix my car." Mariella's confidence since completing the program has grown: "I feel like I am going back to normal.” Most importantly, Mariella shares with a grin: “I can speak with my son-in-law who is from Northern Ireland. Before, I would talk with my daughter and she would translate for me. Now I can speak to him directly.”
If you are ever in the prepackaged pastry department of Wegmans supermarket and happen to see Alfajores made by D'Masa, try them out to remind yourself that dreams really do come true.
Mariella, ACE wants to tell you congratulations and that we are proud of you! For those who still have dreams, it is never too late, and we will always be here to help.