Advocate for English learners
The Arizona Republic
Nov. 15, 2006

Son of immigrants passionate about helping students in Agua Fria high school district assimilate

Tony Lombardo

There are 400 English-language learners in the Agua Fria Union High School District.

Eugenio Vazquez was one of them more than a decade ago. Now the Agua Fria High graduate is helping others finish high school and pursue a college degree.

"Kids are our future. What do we want to do with our future?" asked Vazquez, a son of Mexican immigrants.As the director of the English Acquisition and Migrant Program, Vazquez oversees instruction for English-language learners in the district.

His parents arrived in the United States in 1972, and he was born four years later. For a period of time, he remembers living out of a Ford F-150 as his father established himself, eventually running his own landscaping company.

The oldest of five, Vazquez is the only one to have received a high school diploma, let alone a college degree.

Working for his father's landscaping company long term was not an option, said Vazquez, who is legally blind.

At age 7, Vazquez became ill and was given penicillin. He had a severe allergic reaction to the medicine and lost almost all of his vision. He persevered and eventually found his calling in education after trying juvenile corrections.

Vazquez said he wanted to inspire students before they entered the justice system. He wanted to "help others in reaching their dreams."

His role at Agua Fria continues to change. Fewer migrant students attend as farms disappear to make way for homes. Plenty of students still need his help, however.

"We continue to identify more students that have English deficiencies,"
Vazquez said.

It's also challenging given the current political climate on immigration, he said. Not of all of the students are citizens, and it's becoming harder for these students to gain admission to a U.S. college, Vazquez said.

"Our goal is to educate. We want them to be productive members of our society," he said.

In addition, students are required to pass the AIMS test to graduate, and some of them have had no more than two years to learn English, he said.

The goal continues to be graduation and college, despite these roadblocks, Vazquez said.

Vazquez oversees 15 instructional aides who work one-on-one with English-language learners.

Most recently, the group conducted a session on motivating unmotivated students.

Vazquez sees potential in the English-language learners that he saw in himself. He's also trying to broaden his own potential.

"My next goal is to become a principal," he said.