NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - This is the month of high school graduations. The milestone is an accomplishment for every young person, but there's often a standout.
Angelica Becerra is one of those students.
The Nacogdoches High School student zips up her graduation gown, marking an accomplishment of a kind never seen before by veteran Nacogdoches High School counselor Rose Stanaland.
"I've been here 25 years and I've never seen a student as determined as Angelica," said Stanaland.
Angelica was born in California, but was raised in central Mexico. She has a dual citizenship. Looking for a better opportunity, she and her family moved to Nacogdoches. The 18 year old was set on graduating with her age group, even though she didn't know one word of English.
"I told her, 'honey, there's just no way. There's no way,'" recalls Stanaland. "I told her, 'you have to do English IV. You have to do government. You have to do U.S. History. There's no way you can do it.'"
Angelica was advised to take a slower, methodical route to graduation. Her ESL teacher Dorothy Jackson-Tubbs learned quickly, "She didn't want that. She didn't want all that support because it would slow her back on graduating on time."
Angelica made a deal with advisers. If in two weeks she couldn't prove herself, she would agree to their plan.
"She wasn't just passing. She was thriving," exclaimed Jackson-Tubbs.
The process was painstaking. ESL paraprofessional Maria Limon gave Angelica the survival tools, including a translator computer program.
"She would look at her daily notes and she would also look in her books. Then she would translate using the laptop. And that's how she could do her notes and study. She would study them in Spanish and then in English," explained Limon.
The study required "sheer motivation," said Jackson-Tubbs.
Amazingly, Angelica passed her exams and assessments. All were taken in English with no assistance.
Conversational English remains difficult for the young woman. The focused student writes responses to questions. She reads off yet more goals she's set for herself.
"My goals are to study and have a good job," said Angelica.
And not just any job. The bright student is interested in becoming an accountant, a subject that involves numbers, not complicated verbs, nouns and pronouns.
"It's the greatest academic success story in my career," says Stanaland.
"There's no doubt in my mind this is a survivor story. Here's a student who comes to the United States, doesn't speak a word of English, but does not let it get her down. I think it's a story that tells us hard work, determination and your dreams can take you wherever you want to go."