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Achieve-Learn-Create: Heredia wants to maximize her educational experience at ALC

This is the first story in a three-part series focusing on students enrolled in District 518's Area Learning Center. Additional stories will be printed on Feb. 11 and 18.

WORTHINGTON -- The first time Leticia Heredia attended classes in the former West Elementary School building, it wasn't a very happy educational experience. She was in fifth grade, and the young Hispanic girl didn't speak any English.

"I'd be crying all the time," she said, remembering what it was like to not understand any of her fellow students. "It was awful. Now, when I see somebody who doesn't know English, I try to help them."

Seven years later, Lety, as she prefers to be called, speaks fluent English with hardly a trace of an accent. And once again, she's attending school in the same building, although instead of an elementary school, it is now home to District 518's Area Learning Center. Lety attends the alternative school because she missed a year of school in the ninth grade, when her family returned to Mexico. She tried classes at Worthington High School for a few months, but switched to the ALC at the beginning of the current school year because it better suited her educational needs. She also feels like she fits in better with the students at the ALC.

"The teachers are nice. People don't criticize you as much.

"I didn't feel comfortable at the high school," Lety continued. "Everybody there is in little groups, and this group doesn't talk to that group. Here it's not that way. Everybody talks to everybody. Here, you can hang around with your friends, but you don't all sit around and talk about the other group.

"And here, we got pregnant girls," added Lety with a laugh. "I get to touch their bellies."

Lety is the third child of Ramiro and Irma Heredia. She has a brother, 23, who lives in California, and a sister, 21, who is married and lives in Mexico. The Heredias are resident aliens -- they have green cards -- and come from Purépero, a town in the state of Michoac?n, Mexico, which is about seven hours from Mexico City.

Born in Purépero, Lety first came to the United States at age 3. Her family lived in California for three years, then returned to Mexico for three years. They moved to Worthington and lived here for three years before returning to Mexico for another two years. Now, they are in Worthington for a second stint. Lety's parents work at Swift & Co.

"I love living in Mexico," declared Lety enthusiastically. "You just feel so comfortable. Pretty much everybody knows everybody. You don't have to wear a watch. My parents built a really big house there. I cry every time we leave."

In Mexico, Lety feels she has more freedom. Her parents, and especially her father, are "typically Hispanic" and "very strict." She doesn't drive a car and has few friends here to hang around with. Lety is currently taking night classes and even spends a lot of her free time at the ALC.

"I don't get to go home after school," she explained. "My parents have to work late, so I stay here until 7:30 p.m., when they come to pick me up."

Lety's school schedule currently includes general math, social studies, human anatomy, retail store II, geometry and biology. She said she gets mostly As and Bs. Geometry is her toughest subject, while retail store is her favorite class.

"I'm the president of it," she said about the class that offers practical experience in running a business. "We have a store in the cafeteria, and we each work in the store -- pick up cans, count money, balance the money, take inventory every day. We sell chips, food, juices, candy. We're trying to get the equipment to be able to cook and sell hot dogs."

The money raised by the small store goes to support a Student of the Week program and other school projects. Currently, the students are trying to raise money to put on their own prom for a second year; the ALC students aren't allowed to participate in the high school's prom unless they attend as the date of a WHS student.

"We're trying to get Daddy Yankee to come," Lety said wishfully, referring to a wildly popular Latino music artist. "Do you know who he is? He's very good-looking.

"I pretty much like Spanish music or hip-hop," she said. "I love dancing ... modern dancing. That's how I stay away from trouble. I dance at home, in the gym, in (a teacher's) room. I'd like to be a dancer, one of the dancers who dances behind the artists. I would be a choreographer, but I don't have the imagination. I never studied it. It just comes from the heart."

In the few hours when she's not at school or home, Lety is employed at Video Lupita, a small store very close to her home. She asked the owner, Maria Parga, for a job, about a year ago.

"One day, when I was getting off the bus, I see this money flying down the street. I picked it up, and there was $300," Lety recalled. "That's a lot of money. I thought, 'Should I keep it?' I could do a lot with that much money. But then I saw this lady with her car door open, so I went over and asked if the money was hers. She was happy to get it back. ... I get so bored at home, so I decided to ask her for a job."

Lety was working at Video Lupita when it was robbed by two men and a juvenile in October 2005. She admits that the ordeal scared her, but not enough to quit the job.

"It's fun, except when the robbers come," she said. "I just try to take it like it was a dream and forget about it. But now I have something to tell my kids. ... If I want to save money, I have to keep working. I only work nine hours a week right now."

Lety plans to stay in Worthington until she graduates, then she will return again to her homeland. Although she dreams about being a dancer, she also likes doing hair and makeup and might consider a career in the cosmetology field. But she's not in any hurry to decide her future right now.

"I will probably go back to Mexico, take a break, then think about what I want to do," she said.

Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at  

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