December 19, 2018 9:35 am

When Sandra Tinoco and her husband moved to Washington from their hometown of Morelia, Michoacan, Mexico, they did not speak any English whatsoever.

Everyday tasks were a constant struggle without the ability to communicate and be understood. With a baby on the way, Tinoco felt more isolated than ever.

“I was so frustrated for such a long time,” the Pierce College student admitted. “I also couldn’t drive, so I was completely dependent on somebody else at all times.”

When her son was about two years old, she decided it was time to learn English and gain some independence. She searched for English as a Second Language (ESL) classes in the community, and found the perfect program that also provided daycare services.

She thought it was her golden opportunity to learn the language while taking advantage of convenient childcare services. “But, my son would cry and cry in daycare,” Tinoco said. “I could hear him from my classroom. After a while, I decided it wasn’t the right time for me to be away from him to take classes.”

The daycare providers in the program did not let her go far. They offered her a job in the daycare center, which she immediately accepted. It was the perfect opportunity for her, since she had the ability to bring her son along, too. But Tinoco wasn’t working there for long before the ESL program was forced to cancel daycare services. But it was this experience that truly sparked her interest in early childhood education and teaching.

After focusing on her family for a few more years, Tinoco looked again for local ESL programs, and came across Pierce College. She enrolled in the college’s ESL program and moved through the levels, improving her skills and confidence along the way. 

During one of her classes, she learned about the college’s Integrated Basic Education Skills Training (I-Best) program, which is open to ESL students. The program provides students with professional-technical career training, and the ability to become certified in early childhood education, integrated business technology, or as a nursing assistant. Students are paired up with ESL or GED instructors, as well as a professional-technical instructor, for twice the support in the classroom.

“I was worried and nervous to take college classes, because they are so different from the ESL program,” she said. “I didn’t have the confidence to do it at first, but my instructors encouraged me and told me I could do it. The teachers wouldn’t let me give up just because my English wasn’t perfect.”

The support she received in the classroom gave her the confidence to continue her education. Through the I-BEST program, Tinoco earned her Early Childhood Education certificate in three quarters.

“I didn’t want to stop after those three quarters,” she said. “I thought I could do more. And I knew that to become a teacher, I would need my bachelor’s degree.”

Tinoco was nearly finished with her associate degree when she learned the college was launching a Bachelor of Applied Science in Teaching program. She spent a year preparing herself for the bachelor’s program, and enrolled with excitement. This year, Tinoco will be part of the second cohort of students to graduate from Pierce College with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Teaching degree. She plans to pursue her master’s degree, and credits her teachers at Pierce College for helping her gain the confidence to pursue her goals. “There are so many opportunities at Pierce College, and the teachers are amazing,” she said. “I hope non-native English speakers realize that just because they don't speak the language perfectly, you can still do amazing things.”