SAN BERNARDINO – When Luz Garcia came to Options for Youth last August, the 18-year-old journalist didn’t speak a lick of English.
Wednesday, June 1, more than 1,000 people will be listening to Garcia speak – in English — at the Options graduation ceremony at the Ontario Convention Center.
She will be walking with 34 other graduates from Options’ San Bernardino charter, which includes two school sites in the city. They will be joining 293 graduates from two other Options charters. In addition to being the graduation speaker, Garcia had the highest grade point average for her school.
“She is a very, very bright girl,” commented English teacher Linda Fakhoury. “She has an inner focus which is very rare for a person of her age.”
It didn’t come easy.
“I didn’t speak any English when I came to Options,” Garcia said, speaking clearly, but with an accent. “It was very difficult. I had to sacrifice my social life with my friends.”
While born in Van Nuys, she went to live in Mexico with her mother when she was only 2 year old. Her dream of returning to the United States to study came true when she was 18.
Abraham Navarro tutored her extensively when she started. Later, he handed Garcia over to Otniel Julian, the charter’s English language development coach.
“We need to be patient with English language learners,” Julian said. “We need to give them hope and encourage them. They know they struggle.”
Reading out loud in English helped, he said. So did watching television, Garcia added.
A former editor for a weekly newspaper in Toluca, Mexico, she first watched television news with Spanish subtitles. After two months, she abandoned the subtitles.
“I decided to totally immerse myself in English,” Garcia said. “That’s how a baby learns to speak a language.”
She heard about Options after trying to enroll in Colton High School and being turned down because she was 18.
“Options is the best school I have been to in my life,” Garcia said. “The teachers always support you. The field trips are a great opportunity for students. I got to go to Washington, D.C.”
She said she loves politics, and hopes to major in political science after transferring from San Bernardino Valley College to UC Riverside. From there, she hopes to go to law school.
“If your goals are clear, you can achieve anything you want,” Garcia concluded. “You just need to act.”