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Wednesday, February 6, 2008

7th-grader from Mexico is ready to make the American dream come true


By Elizabeth Benton
Register Staff
NEW HAVEN — Sergio Olmedo was 9 years old, splitting his time between classwork and cutting crops, when his family left Mexico for New Haven.
He taught himself to count in English before arriving at John C. Daniels School, where instruction is given in both Spanish and English.
Four years later, the Daniels School seventh-grader, shown above in a photo by Peter Casolino, is headed to Florida to pick up a first-place award for the National Association for Bilingual Education’s essay contest. Sergio wrote his essay in English about the importance of becoming bilingual.
“I want a good job and a good future. I want my American dream to come true like it did for so many people who came here and still cross their borders to achieve it,” Sergio’s essay says. “I want to be a voice for people who struggle every day. Everyone has a dream, no matter where you come from, and being bilingual is the first step toward making it come true.
“Some day, you will hear of Sergio Olmedo the soccer player, or you will hear of Sergio Olmedo who talked to the president about removing obstacles in the way of people communicating their needs or bettering their lives,” he wrote.
Sergio said immigrants here live in fear, that “someone they do not trust will call ‘la migra’ and they will get deported.”
Without a trusted voice speaking for them, they lack confidence to get ahead, he said.
“Seeing someone that they know has become bilingual might move them to take some ESL classes and learn English, too,” he said.
But Sergio also noted he translates for his parents sometimes, who speak limited English. And while his English is strong now, he still thinks and dreams in Spanish. “I am still learning a second language,” he said.
But he’s eager to become fluent. “If you don’t speak English, they’re not going to listen to you,” he said. “You need to speak English to tell the boss what needs to be fixed. If someone is translating for you, it’s not going to be your words.”
What needs to be fixed? “More opportunities for others,” he says.Since moving to New Haven, Sergio said, his school work has improved, despite the added challenge of learning a new language. “In Mexico there were all kinds of bad things to do. Here, you come to school, it’s clean, there are more opportunities to take. In Mexico, you have to cut crops even if you’re a kid,” he said. He’s not working now, leaving him more time to focus on his favorite subjects, writing and math, and learning about triangles and quadrilaterals.
While he’s enjoying his time in the Elm City, Sergio’s got global plans for his future: to be an international soccer star.
Sergio will be joined in Tampa by his mother, Ranulsa Ramirez; his teacher, Jeanette Gil de Rubio; Daniels math and literacy instructional coach Robin Barna; and Daniels Principal Gina Wells.
Olmeda will read his essay in English to an audience of 1,600 people at a conference Thursday. He’s also translated the three-page piece into Spanish.
It’s been an 18-month effort, Gil de Rubio said.
Sergio first submitted the essay last year. When he received no response from NABE, he kept revising and resubmitted.
“He’s determined. He’s going to make it,” Gil de Rubio said.
In addition to the all-expenses- paid trip to Tampa, Olmeda won $1,500, which he said he plans to put toward soccer school.
Elizabeth Benton can be reached at 789-5714 or ebenton@nhregister.com.

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