Victoria Peguero is on a mission to help others achieve their American dream.
For immigrants, two common hurdles to achieving that dream are a lack of English language skills and securing citizenship, said Peguro, who teaches at the New Community Adult Learning Center.
To help those who must start from square one, Peguero has devoted the last nine years to teaching the Level 1 class of English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), according to Cristhian Barcelos, the center’s director. She also spends Saturdays teaching a course that prepares immigrants to take the citizenship test, starting five years ago.
“I have helped a lot of students become U.S. citizens, hundreds,” Peguero estimates.
One of those newly minted U.S. citizens is 38-year-old Mayerleng Becerra. A native of Colombia, Becerra heard from a friend that Peguero was a wonderful English teacher who could transition from Spanish to English, a crucial element for those just beginning to grasp the language basics or who are illiterate.
So Becerra committed herself to attending Peguero’s ESOL class, commuting from her home in Union to Newark. Peguero also assisted her in preparing for the citizenship test, which Becerra said she successfully passed in 2014.
“It’s more easy for me because I (didn’t) speak English very well. It helped me a lot,” she said, referring to Peguero’s teaching style and approachable manner. “She’s a real nice person. She tries to help everybody,” Becerra added.
Peguero can easily relate to her students. Born in the Dominican Republic in the city of San Pedro de Macoris, Peguero said she grew up and “always wanted to be a teacher.” She first came to the U.S. in 1981 and studied at what’s now known as Lehman College in the Bronx. Peguero said that she became a U.S. citizen at age 25. Several years later, she moved back to the Dominican Republic but returned to the U.S. in 2005, for a second time, and has been here since. In addition to teaching at the Adult Learning Center, located at 563 Orange St. in Newark, Peguero works at a daycare as a certified Child Development Associate.
Although Peguero desires to return to the Dominican Republic someday, she believes that, for now, she’s found her calling at the Adult Learning Center. “From here, I can help a lot of people,” she said.
“Ms. Peguero’s dedication towards her students and our institution is unparalleled,” Barcelos said. “She is always early for class and encourages her students to go above and beyond.”