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Ossiel Gomez, left, and Jose Rauda are among the students at Sanger High who have mastered English and were recognized.

Seniors Ossiel Gomez and Jose Rauda and others in their group helped set up the night’s event in the Sanger High south gym May 16.

The evening was important, said Jason Locke, the administrator charged with language development.

“These students have been in school and have finally passed their state assessment,” he said. “It’s called the ELPAC, or English Language Proficiency Assessments for California. They’re good to go. These guys are fluent in two languages.”

The ELPAC is the successor to the California English Language Development Test and is required for all English language learners. Passing it is required to graduate.

The event that marked their passage included a full meal, music by the high school jazz band and folklorico dancing. Certificates were handed out to at least 66 students. Families attended to participate in the recognition.

“I’m really proud of them,” said Alfredo Ponce, assistant principal. “They have an ability to overcome tremendous odds, and they still come to school with a smile. They figure it out. They scratch. They claw. We want them to dream.”

Gomez said he came to Sanger High as a sophomore. “It was hard,” he said. 

He knew not a word of English. Make that one. He knew, “Hi.”

“I was completely lost,” he said. Then Gomez said he met others in his situation in English class. “It was a home for me. I met Jose. Most of us spoke Spanish.”

“In the beginning, we didn’t know each other,” Rauda said. “(But) we left that life in Mexico. We had another. We came here for opportunity and to start again.”

Ponce walked up as the two discussed their assimilation into central San Joaquin Valley culture and becoming Apaches. “Two of my favorite kids,” he said.

Rauda said he was impressed with Sanger. “I thought it was going to be bad,” he said. He didn’t really know what to expect. “You hear things.” Mostly that it would be tough on kids who didn’t have a grasp of English, he said.

“But little by little, l learned the language,” he said. “It got better.”

Gomez said he grew more comfortable speaking in another tongue. “I feel more confident now,” he said. 

Gomez plans to go to Reedley College and study to be an aircraft mechanic.

Rauda said he also plans to attend Reedley College for two years then transfer to Fresno State to get his bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

The two friends also share tragedy and loss. Gomez lost his father to violence in Mexico when he was 8. Then he contracted lymphoma and beat it with a combination of chemo and radiation. He said he loved his father but his grandfather filled that role for him. “It was a different type of hard time,” he said of the cancer.

Rauda’s father died when he was 7.

“I know this is an opportunity and I make goals for myself,” Gomez said. 

Rauda said he will miss his teachers and friends. But he said he is prepared to face the initial tests of adulthood. “After this, it’s going to be more a challenge,” he said. “You never give up. You just go forward.”

The reporter can be contacted by email at nemethfeatures@gmail.com or by phone at the Herald at (559) 875-2511.

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