By Kimberlina Rocha/Staff Writer Of Santa Maria Times
When Jaime Gutierrez teaches his students language arts, he knows he’s come a long way from the time when he had difficulty reading, writing and even conversing in English.
“Learning how to read and write (in English) has opened many windows for me,” he said. “Being literate has given me the opportunity to be a successful person in life.”
When Gutierrez came to the Central Coast from Mexico more than 25 years ago, he knew very little English. He worked in the fields and for a packaging company in Oceano until he injured his back.
Gutierrez, 50, said it was hard for him to find a job because he wasn’t fluent in English, so he decided to go to night school to learn the language.
“I saw it as an opportunity to get my life back together,” he said. “It was a way to get a job and new opportunities to improve my income.”
Gutierrez then went on to take classes at Hancock College. He also worked one-on-one with a tutor from the Central Coast Literacy Council, which is a nonprofit organization that teaches adults how to read, write and speak English.
As a full-time student, Gutierrez said, he was unable to work. He said he and his family struggled financially while he was in school, but he was determined to overcome his language barrier.
“I was so eager to learn,” he said. “My tenacity to learn English was so high.”
With support and motivation from his family and from the Literacy Council, Gutierrez transferred to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and earned his bachelor’s degree and teaching credential.
He has been a substitute teacher for the Guadalupe and Santa Maria-Bonita School districts for almost three years.
“My goal as a teacher is to motivate students to believe in themselves,” he said. “It’s sad to see that in high school and in middle school, not that many students are interested in higher learning.”
He also teaches English language classes at night in Santa Maria and in Guadalupe. Being a former English language learner himself, he said, he understands their situation.
“I know first-hand that learning the language isn’t easy,” he said. “My advice to them is to never give up and to believe in themselves.”
Gutierrez and his wife Silvia Margarita have also made sure that their children know the importance of education.
They have two daughters attending college. Lupita, 21, is studying at Hancock and Silvia, 19, is a sophomore at UC Santa Barbara. Their son Julio, 26, is a Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s deputy and their oldest son Jesus, 28, is working full-time and plans to study architecture.
Their 10-year-old daughter Elizabeth is a fifth-grader at Oceano Elementary School.
She said her dad has always helped her with her reading and school work, and she received straight A’s on her last report card.
“He’s taught me to not be afraid to work for what I want,” she said.
Silvia Gutierrez said that her father has always been a motivating force in her life. Whenever she would get frustrated with her homework, he would always be there to give her advice.
“He would always tell me, ‘If I could do it, you can do it,’” she said. “I learned from him that nothing is impossible unless you want it to be.”