Community professionals show students at Unity Reed High School that there are many paths to achieving their dreams
Staff at Unity Reed High School organized the Life After High School fair for 11th and 12th graders learning English, exposing them to opportunities and examples that could help them achieve, succeed and keep their living dreams. In addition to exhibits on community organizations and resources, ESOL teacher Amanda Thomas and guidance counselor Marcus Lawrence invited 20 culturally diverse professionals from the local community to attend. These volunteers shared personal life examples to illustrate that there are many individual paths to success and to show what is possible.
The keynote speaker for the event was Juan Lizama, Administrative Coordinator of the Division’s Office of English Language Programs and Services, who shared his incredible immigrant story and path to success.
“For a few years, as a young child, there would have been no life after high school for me due to an ongoing civil war which caused schools to close in the rural area where I grown up,” Lizama explained. “After daunting ordeals, I was forced to flee my home country of El Salvador and came to the United States on my own at the age of 16.
“Sharing my story with the EL students at Unity Reed High School was special because I identify with them, and they identify with me, not only in terms of having to learn English and progress academically, but also , for some of them, to be forced to flee their country of origin. I also wanted them to know how education has broadened my horizons in the world and that it has been the key to my life and my job opportunities,” added Lizama.
Community volunteers included small business owners and members of the Prince William County government, emergency service providers, the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Service, military service members from the US Army; and some former Unity Reed graduates who were ESOL students and are now successful professionals.
After the fair, each student created a concrete plan of what they will do after high school. Using the information gathered at the fair to guide them, they came up with the schools or careers they wanted to pursue and created steps to help them get there.
“The event was a success and proof of what can be accomplished when we come together as a community!” said Maria Anderson, vice principal at Unity Reed High. “This is the first time this event has taken place at Unity Reed. To improve next time, we would like to expand our volunteer base to include more professions and schools for students to get a better balance of information.