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Spanish as a second language

Former Hall resident plans to opens academy in Mexico to teach US-raised kids their native tongue

POSTED: December 7, 2010 12:30 a.m.
SARA GUEVARA /The Times

Carol Renteria is leaving for Mexico at the beginning of January to establish a school for children who have moved back to Mexico or have been deported but do not speak Spanish. Renteria has collected a variety of books for children of all ages.

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There are times when life creates its own story, when one's destiny becomes obvious.

Some call it fate, others call it God, and some think it merely coincidence.

For Carol Renteria, the discovery of her destiny resulted as a combination of all three.

After getting out of an abusive marriage, Carol and her three children moved to Hall County. Her family grew in 2005 when she met her husband, Luis, and his two children.

Carol and Luis married in April 2009, only nine months before Luis was deported to his birthplace of Chumbitaro, Mexico. However, Carol was left in Gainesville with Omar and Tiffany, his two children who still have not seen their father.

Because Luis cannot come to her, Carol and their two children are going to him.

She visited Chumbitaro for their one-year anniversary. This visit opened many doors and solidified her purpose for moving. Not only did she need to move to Mexico for her family, but there were others there who needed her there: the neighborhood children.

In one visit, Carol discovered at least 25 children who cannot attend local schools because they do not read and write in Spanish. All were raised in American schools.

"What a lot of Americans do not understand is that many Mexicans who are deported have American children who were born here," Renteria said. "They may speak Spanish at home, but they learned in American schools. They cannot survive in the schools found in small Mexican cities."

Though there is a school in Chumbitaro, it only runs to the fifth grade. After that, students either work full time or pay for schools in bigger cities.

"These people live off their land; they do not have money to pay for schools," she said. "Even if they did, the students would not get the education they need in order keep up with American students if and when they move back to the U.S."
The need for local education, along with her love of people, inspired Renteria to open Chumbitaro Lighthouse Academy.

"I came up with the idea because there are so many kids there who cannot go to school," she said. "One girl in particular was very inspiring. Jade asked me how my children were going to learn when they moved here - I told her I would teach them. She begged me to teach her, too."

Though she had the idea last spring, Renteria had a hard time determining how to charter a school abroad. She called many sources for help, from Georgia's educational leaders and governor's office to the White House.

Finally, she found what she needed.

"No one had the answers because it was unusual; no one has ever wanted to open a school before in a different country, not someone like me, who is a normal, everyday person without a sponsor," she said. "I had to get a tax ID number to register my school. Now it has a name and number; it's ready to go."

The only thing left to finalize Chumbitaro Lighthouse Academy is to register it in Mexico.

"In Chumbitaro, you work from your home. The school will be in a large room in our house, but we have to build it. We will stay with my in-laws until it's finished," Renteria said.

"The city is like a large family; they're very helpful. They want to pay me to teach their children, but all I want is their help in building the school."
Though she wants students to learn the science of their land, Renteria will base her curriculum off that of American schools.

"Many of these kids are behind, but I want to teach them at their age-appropriate level to push them," she said. "To me, you have to believe in a kid. I want to push them to be better than they think they can be. However, you cannot always be down on them; they need something positive to stay motivated."

Motivation is partly why she used the name Chumbitaro Lighthouse Academy.

"To me, a lighthouse has always been a refuge. A lighthouse guides a way; it doesn't bring you there, but it guides you in the right direction," she said. "I've always loved lighthouses and that's why I used this name."

She has a name; she has a location and she has a roster. All she needs now are funds.

"My biggest obstacle in opening this school is money. I could use books, supplies and laptops for the children," she said. "So far, God has allowed everything to happen according to his plan. I know it will work out, but I'll need help."

On top of fundraising efforts, Renteria has applied for a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant in hopes of building a schoolroom and supplying her students with modern educational tools.

However, she is asking for help from this community as well.

"If anyone has educational materials I could use, used laptops or if they want to donate to my cause, they can contact me. Though I have 25 students to begin with, I hope to one day reach all of the children in my community," she said.

Though her goal is to teach Chumbitaro's American-raised students, Renteria hopes one day they can all move back to the United States and rejoin public schools here.

"Too many Americans do not like Mexicans because of their illegal status - they ‘steal their jobs,'" she said. "Well, they work the best job they can get, the jobs no one else wants. They work hard to better themselves and provide for their families. These children didn't have a choice, but they're here and they deserve the same as other American children. I hope to give that."



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