WAPATO, Wash. — When Jessica Alvarez comes home from school, her mom is usually putting dinner on the table and her father is on his way home from working in the fields.
After dinner with her family, including her five siblings, the 18-year-old Wapato High School senior begins her homework. And on Sundays, they all go to church together. This strong family structure and the support it provides are the driving force behind Alvarez’s success in high school.
Her success will be realized today, when she walks with her graduating class during commencement at the Yakima Valley SunDome. Although her older sister already graduated from Wapato High, “It will still be a big deal being a first-generation graduate,” she said.
Both her parents are from the town of Foyatlan del Oro in Jalisco, Mexico, where they worked in the fields to help their parents rather than attending high school. They came to the United States in 1993, and her mother has been a stay-at-home mom since living here.
“My dad always said he wants a better life for us,” Alvarez said. “He wants something better for us. I’ve been pushed to succeed.”
Her siblings also have been pushed. Her older sister is attending Heritage University, and her younger sister and two younger brothers are all doing well in school.
Alvarez’s family support shines in school, said her calculus teacher, Tamera Wiley-Fauth. “I think really her parents view education as her job while she’s at school,” Wiley-Fauth said. “She always has her homework done.”
Alvarez’s hard work is evident. She belongs to the National Honor Society and her school’s leadership team. Last summer, she was one of only 32 students out of more than 150 applicants selected to attend a monthlong math academy at the University of Washington.
After some misgivings, her protective parents allowed her to go when they realized the strong educational basis for the trip, she said.
“They were a little iffy about it,” she said. “But the academy, that was great.”
And in church, she learned to play the piano and plays during Sunday services.
“I’m there doing the basics, but I need to learn much more,” she said.
Wiley-Fauth describes Alvarez as a great problem solver who has compassion for her peers and makes herself available to tutor fellow students.
“Jessica is amazing and that support she has at home shines through in the classroom and she’s willing to pass that support on to her peers and that’s what makes her special,” she said. “That compassion she has, that has to be taught at home and that’s what makes her unique. She just broadcasts that compassion she has.”
Alvarez was offered a full-ride scholarship at the UW, but elected to attend Heritage University, west of Toppenish, where she was also offered full tuition.
She chose Heritage so she could remain close to her family, she said.
“One of my main goals is to come back to my community,” she said. “Maybe I believe if I stay in my community and reach my goals here, then there’s the likelihood that I’ll stay and help people here.”
Her long-term goal is to eventually go to medical school and become a doctor.
As far has going to Heritage, she hasn’t decided on a major yet. “Definitely something strong in science,” she quipped.