Mandeep Kaur, paraeducator at Cordata Elementary School
“I was 12 when I arrived in the U.S. and I barely knew my ABC’s. I was born and raised in India, but I went to school in Merced County, California. My dad was already here and there were plenty of reasons to come here; my parents wanted a better future for us. They have been very supportive of me and my brothers.
I have worked in the district for three years. I started as a sub at Sehome. I now work at Cordata as a paraeducator for student supervision, like a recess teacher, and I also work with a 1:1 student and I help a little in the office.
I am also an interpreter in Punjabi with the district and what I love about interpreting is that I wish I had had that in school. I didn’t know English and I didn’t know what my friends were saying to me when I first arrived. At my school at that time, there was no translating available. Here there are so many people that help. As an interpreter, we call families and let them know what’s happening at the school. Back then when I went to school, there was nothing like that. My parents didn’t know any English; they only knew what we told them about what was happening at school.
When I speak to Punjabi ELL kids, I have other kids ask me “What did you say to him? What were you asking?” And I share what they did for the weekend or what colors they like. It’s small things but they want to know about their friends and it becomes a bridge.
I’ve been in the U.S. for 18 years. I felt like when I left high school I finally understood what was happening. Learning a language by yourself is really hard and difficult.
While in high school, a staff member asked me if I wanted to work for them helping with attendance. I would pick up the attendance, scan all the pages, and deliver the notes. I still talk to that registrar Idalia Martinez who got me that job. I keep her as my role model. When I got hired here I think she happier than anyone else. I consider her my second mom. She still visits my mom at her home in California. Because of her and another staff member, Leticia Parres, I’ve learned a lot. They both guided me to go to college. I remember walking myself to the college and registering myself because of their encouragement. I still talk to both of them.
I was a very shy person. I didn’t speak because I thought something wrong would come out of my mouth and people would make fun of me. It just kept me quiet. I think when I went to college I overcame some of that. I think it’s getting better and better. If I have something in my heart, I will say it; if I have a question, I will ask. Growing up, I wasn’t asking a lot of questions that I should have. A lot got pushed down because of not knowing the language. Teachers were awesome though; I just didn’t have enough confidence. I always tell my sons not to be shy, that they need to be able to express their feelings. To be somewhere in life you have to be able to speak your mind.”
Lisa Jones, cook at the Central Kitchen
“I am cancer free at this point. I don’t have to have another bone marrow for 2.5 years. They watch me closely because the chemo damaged my kidneys so I have to monitor that, but really I am blessed; it could have been a whole lot worse. I am a miracle.
In May 2018 I was working at Cordata; I noticed I started losing strength pushing carts around. As women, we often suck it up and we say things like we’re just getting older. One day I came home from work and I said I can’t go any more and my family rushed me to the hospital. They knew something was wrong because I had always been like Energizer bunny my entire life. I went to the hospital that night and they couldn’t figure out was wrong because I was pretty anemic. After a bunch of tests they said I needed to do a bone marrow transplant and that I had less than two months to live. I was diagnosed with leukemia.
I went in for treatment, four rounds of chemo in the hospital, really strong chemo, and then they finally found a donor that matched. He was a 26 year old male that decided he wanted to help. I have not met him yet but we have corresponded a little bit. He just said he was elated to get the phone call and I told him he saved my life and he said he was happy to do it. We did the treatments and then the bone marrow transplant. I had 39 blood transfusions. I had to stay in Seattle for four months because I had to have round-the-clock care since I had no immunity, absolutely none. If I got sick the chances of fighting that off were very, very slim.
I stopped working for 18 months. I came back to work in Cordata’s kitchen in November 2019 just months before COVID hit. The doctors let me come back 4 hours a day even though I wanted more. After the shutdown, I needed to be in a place where there wasn’t a lot of traffic during that time, so I came to work in the Central Kitchen in September 2020 and I love it. I loved being with the kids in schools but this is a better environment for me right now and I still do what I love to do.
With COVID, we’ve had to abide by all the rules and we’ve had to make accommodations on how we feed children, compared to how we used to. It’s been very rewarding, we’ve had an opportunity to not only feed the children but to help the community as well. It takes the burden off the parents; even it’s one little burden…such as running to the grocery store. It’s been very hard for a lot of families this year.
Here in the Central Kitchen I boxed entrées and separated vegetables and fruit and packaged all that, and then I took a cook’s position when that came up, so now I’m doing a lot of the cooking. We make soups and entrees and we’ll start even more scratch-cooking after spring break.
I just learned to use the pasta machine which reminds me of a big excavator machine or bucket truck. It’s huge. You cook the pasta and then it lifts up like a bucket truck and then it goes into another container that pulls the noodles down and moves them around and then it lifts up.
It’s a great team and such a great place to work. Not only in the Central Kitchen but in the district itself. It’s like a family.
If I had not had the support of my family and the school district in what they did for me to help me fight my battle, I probably wouldn’t have made it. They were my cheerleaders.
What brings joy? What we’re doing. Feeding the children, helping the families. It takes a village to raise a child and we’re part of that in Food Services. It brings me joy that we can do that. And also working with the people I work with. They have such a heart for the kids and the community and each other. It’s just amazing.
There are good things that have happened, too; we can’t just throw everything out from this past year. I got to spend time a lot of time with my grandchildren this past year. I was going for a walk with my 5 year old granddaughter and she said, “Nana, I bought Covid.” And I said “Why would you do that?” “Nana, I get to spend so much time with you.” I just had to stop and think about that, her perspective.
I was thrown a curveball. I take one day at a time and I am thankful for the opportunities that I have. I don’t want to miss those opportunities. And sometimes it’s the little things; I don’t want to miss those either.”
Jasleen Aulakh, Special Education Teacher at Fairhaven and Shuksan middle schools
“I spoke English when I moved to Canada, but the language was spoken very differently in Canada than I had learned in India. My written and listening skills were great, but I struggled with speaking in the Canadian vernacular. I was put in an ELL class right away and for me it was a traumatizing experience because I thought I stood out. I was already so different and the “new kid.” I didn’t look like a lot of these kids and now I was being pulled out of class.
I want to create experiences for students that I didn’t have when I was younger. I feel like even now, as an immigrant and person of color, I don’t always catch things because everyone’s experience is so unique.
Everyone has a different experience and the most important part for me is that kids are being listened to, and their needs are being met. We should tell kids why we’re giving them the services they receive. We should ask them how they’re feeling about getting those services and whether they actually feel like they’re making progress. You can’t just keep adding interventions for kids and expect them to understand or learn. They have to be in control of their learning, too.
I want my students to be good advocates for themselves and take initiative for their learning. I think when we talk about diversity, a lot of the time we might stick with race and culture, but I want to really see the diversity of their learning styles acknowledged, as well. And to provide access to their learning in whatever way they need.”