From Dropping Out of School to Becoming an Interpreter for Deaf Students
Posted by Jennifer Vecchiarelli on November 30, 2017 in categoryStudent Stories

Adult learners often must overcome heartbreak, embarrassment, and hardship to reach their goals. We are proud of their accomplishments and hope their success stories can help inspire others to do the same.

Jessica Alvarado’s Story

Jessica Alvarado is enjoying a successful career doing what she loves—interpreting for deaf students in the classroom. Her road to success wasn’t always direct, but the journey always centered on helping others.

As a high school sophomore Jessica had failing grades and missing credits. On top of that she was a single parent. During her junior year, she dropped out. She was so far behind that she could not see herself making up missed work, much less graduating on time. 

After spending some time as a student at the local continuation school in 1991, Jessica decided to take her education to the next level and enrolled at Bakersfield Adult School (BAS). With a plan to go into the health care profession, she enrolled in the Hospital Health class and passed with an A. 

Jessica decided she wanted to be a phlebotomist. BAS didn’t offer a class in phlebotomy, but Jessica’s instructor helped her find other programs. After a few years working in a hospital laboratory drawing blood from patients, she enrolled in Bakersfield College’s Allied Health nursing program.

While studying in the nursing program Jessica made a major change in her career path when she decided to take an American Sign Language (ASL) class. “I just fell in love with the [sign] language and I started taking the classes I needed for that,” Jessica recalled. “At this time, Bakersfield College wanted to begin an ASL lab, and I was asked to help set it up and run the lab. As part of this process, I also developed the sign language lab manuals which are still in use today.”

After completing the ASL classes at BAS, Jessica started a career as an interpreter. “My first interpreting assignment was to work with a student at the (Bakersfield) Adult School. At the same time, my children were getting ready to enter high school themselves, and a secretary at the adult school, Karen Hargis, told me I should work on getting my high school diploma as motivation for my kids,” Jessica said.

Karen reached out to the director of Independent Study for BAS to get additional information for Jessica. Jessica, however, was hesitant about getting back into school. “At this time I was working for Program for Reaching Optimal Potential (PROP), a collaboration between the California Department of Rehabilitation and Kern High School District, which was located at the opposite end of the parking lot from the Independent Study building,” she explained.  “Every day I would see one of the teachers, Freddie Boyd, and he would badger me about starting on my diploma. Finally, I realized that even though I had a successful career as an interpreter for deaf students, I still couldn’t check (the) “Yes” box for high school diploma. When I finally got into it, I worked hard and received As and Bs in my classes. Once I earned my diploma, I had it turned into a plaque so I could wrap it up and give it to my father for Father’s Day.”

Two constants in Jessica’s life are her husband and God. “Without Gilbert’s support and God’s guiding hand, I’m unsure where I’d be now,” she said.
Jessica still works with PROP helping deaf students learn and become successful themselves. She says a short-term goal is to complete her AA in American Sign Language. Her long-term goal is to become a teacher in addition to interpreting.

“Being able to say ‘yes, I am a high school graduate’ is one of the most gratifying things I have experienced. I am so glad my kids know they need to stay in school. I didn’t want them to say that they didn’t need a high school diploma because their mother didn’t have one.”

—This student story was provided by Outreach and Technical Assistance Network for Adult Educators (OTAN), in Sacramento, California. OTAN is a statewide leadership project that supports the adult education field throughout California. 

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