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Ambitious Student Leaves Home To Improve English

Bermarie Guzman left Puerto Rico to pursue a better education in Kissimmee.

By Tania deLuzuriaga | Sentinel Staff Writer

April 26, 2004
Copyright ©2004 THE ORLANDO SENTINEL. All rights reserved.


Bermarie Guzman knew she needed to master English so she could attend college on the mainland.

A native of Jayuya, Puerto Rico, Bermarie has her heart set on studying veterinary medicine at the University of Florida.

"Being bilingual is very helpful," she said, a hint of an accent tingeing her English. "There's more opportunity for jobs, and it's better for making friends."

Knowing that an hour a day of English instruction on the island wouldn't be enough to prepare her for college, 16-year-old Bermarie made a bold decision. Last July, she left her family and moved 1,200 miles to Kissimmee to live with an uncle.

"She did all kinds of research before she left," Bermarie's father, Miguel Guzman Diaz, explained. "She said this would be her only opportunity and knew what she needed in order to succeed in becoming a veterinarian, her dream all her life."

Like many students who come from Puerto Rico, Bermarie was immediately classified as a non-English speaker upon enrolling at Osceola High School and put in an English for Speakers of Other Languages class.

But Bermarie was surprised to find that she spoke English better than most of her classmates, some of whom had been on the mainland for several years.

"I thought it was going to be like I didn't know anything, and other students would all be ahead of me," she said.

Just weeks into her junior year, Bermarie tested out of ESOL. A month later, she passed the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test on her first try, something that only 11 percent of limited-English speakers achieved in March 2003.

"Berma was frustrated when she first got there and was put in ESOL," her father said. "She knew she needed to get out of this fast. She wanted to be in another level of learning, and she wanted to be challenged."

While some students languish in their comfort zones, Bermarie has taken up softball, is earning straight A's and plans to take the SAT in May. Next year, she wants to participate in Osceola High's dual-enrollment program with Valencia Community College, taking pre-calculus and biology.

"Why didn't I come here earlier?" she asked. "I could have taken more classes

The girl who once worried that people would make fun of her accent now floats flawlessly between two languages.

"Es muy lindo [It's very beautiful]," her dad said with a smile. "She starts talking to us in Spanish, but midway she'll automatically shift to English, without even knowing it, and we have to say, 'Berma, slow down.' "

"I have to remind her who she's talking to," added her mom, Elsa.

Though she misses her family, Bermarie says the sacrifice is worth it.

"My parents always encouraged me to be the best," she said. "I'm always trying to improve myself. I wanted to learn. I have goals."

Staff photographer Hilda M. Perez contributed to this report.

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