Imelda Donato: Stockton School for Adults

Hello, my name is Imelda Donato. I am one of five children in my family. I am the first to have graduated and have gone to college. I am an Adult Education Counselor at Stockton School for Adults. So, how did I get here? I would like to share my story with you. But please bear with me as my journey like those of many others had road blocks and speed bumps that slowed me down. It was not a straight path to success. I did not go straight to college after knowing most of my childhood what wanted to be “when I grow up.” In fact I did not know I could go to college. I was unaware of my potential.

My journey to becoming a counselor began as a student at Stockton School for Adults, but I didn’t decide that I wanted to be a student there, I ended up at School for Adults in 1996 after my high school counselor notified me that I was “not going to graduate” and since I was 18 years old I was referred to School for Adults. I think that I internalized that to mean that I was not smart simply because I was not fluent in the language and not because I did not meet the requirements for graduation.

The combination of missing school due to constant moving to follow the crop seasons and the fact that I thought I was not smart because I had to repeat a grade since I did not speak English fluently had finally caught up with me…I ran out of time. I have vague memories of sitting in the back of the class at a round table with a small group and looking at very colorful pictures while being asked to identify them, I was an English learner. Once I was in high school I had a better grasp of the English language, but by then it was late. I enrolled at Stockton School for Adults (SFA) without expectations, either from myself or the staff. My future was not clear. I just knew that in order to avoid farm work which my mother had exposed us to every summer since we were young, I had to be at school. I would attend all school sessions possible and although I had begun with no expectations that would soon change. Ms. Baba, my homeroom teacher at SFA was the first to ask me about my goals and future after graduation. I don’t think I had an answer right away. So she continued to ask. I was unaware that the reason why she was asking was because I was close to meeting my high school requirements. I had not thought about what I would do after graduation, because I did not think that day would ever come. After all, here I was because I had not been able to meet my high school requirements. Throughout my time with Ms. Baba, she would encourage me to take class test and this gave me a sense that she believed in me. She thought I could and that was enough for me to try and not let her down. I completed my high school requirements before the school year ended, seven months after I had enrolled and attended full time at SFA, I was a graduate. I attended my local community college, San Joaquin Delta College obtained my AA and transfer to CSU Stanislaus, always staying local and within my community. After I had graduated and obtained my Bachelor’s Degree, I returned to School for Adults as a substitute teacher one day. I saw Ms. Baba in the front office told her all about my wonderful job as a substitute teacher. Ms. Baba invited me to consider giving a speech to the graduating class that year, once again here she was believing that I could do something that I had never considered. Tell my story so that others would be inspired. I could never say no to Ms. Baba, she had done so much for me, just by encouraging me. After the graduation speech I developed a special connection with SFA. I returned as a substitute teacher and eventually became an ESL teacher. There was special connection that I had for the ESL students learning a new language and for the young adults that were trying to meet there high school requirements to obtain their high school diplomas. I had been there before.

School for Adults gave me a sense of connection and helped me realized that I had the potential for learning. Ms. Baba, an adult education teacher saw something in me, that I had not seen in myself and she somehow brought out in me a desire to learn. The fire had been lit and there was no putting it out. In 2012 I returned to school to obtain my master’s in Education with an emphasis in School Counseling. Every year a student is chosen to receive the Outstanding Student Achiever for the Pupil Personnel Service Credential Program. In 2014, I received that award, and there front and center, present to see me received an award in academic excellence was Ms. Baba. As I walked across the stage I thought to myself, here I am a student who had to learn English, a student who had to attend Adult Education.

Now, here I am an Adult Education Counselor. I am the person on the other side of the desk asking student to share with me their educational goals. When I see a student that is trying to meet their high school requirements, I always share with them that I too sat on a chair like them not knowing what lied ahead, but having travel that road I can help ease their anxiety. When I see ESL students, I explain to them that practicing English and not giving up is one of the best things that they can do to get ahead. I did not know that I could graduate. I didn’t know that I had potential, but thanks to Ms. Nancy Baba and Adult educator at Stockton School for Adults, I can help others discover this in themselves.