MARYSVILLE – Six years ago, when Daira Paniagua moved with her family to Marysville from a town outside Mexico City, she didn’t understand any English.
Now, she’s graduating from Marysville Getchell High School with a 3.5 grade point average and planning to be the first in her family to go to college.
Daira is one of a growing number of students in Marysville who have moved from their home country to the United States in search of a better life. The Marysville School District offers a number of classes and programs to help these students succeed.
Daira said her family wanted to escape violence in her town, and get a better education for her and her older sister. That, in turn, would lead to better jobs in the future.
They decided on Marysville after finding out about it from a relative in Bellingham. Low rent was one factor.
“My mom likes it here because it’s a calm town – not a lot of things going on,” Daira said.
Things were challenging from the start. “It was really hard for all of us at first,” Daira said. She understands now that they are living a better, safer life than before. And she feels if she works hard there are better opportunities for her.
“But I missed my family and some of my friends there,” she said of her old hometown.
At school, not knowing the language, of course, was a major hurdle.
“Not knowing English when I came here was hard for me at first,” she said, adding it was tough making friends at Marysville Middle School. “I didn’t understand what was going on in the classroom.”
Daira said most of her teachers didn’t know Spanish, so classmates helped her.
“The teachers talked way too fast; that made it really complicated for me,” she said.
Daira said on many days she sat by herself at lunchtime. “A lot of kids were rude to me,” she said.
She said she took extra classes to help her learn English and expand her vocabulary.
Daira said after a couple of years she got better at it and started to thrive when she changed to Cedarcrest Middle School.
“It was more comfortable to see more people like me – not feel as much as an outsider,” she said.
She said she regressed a little as a freshman as she “lost motivation. I wasn’t as good as everyone else.”
But she turned that around by getting involved in the Minority Achievers Program at the YMCA and started getting more involved, going on field trips and doing community service. As a sophomore she got even more connected, joining the Spanish Club. Now, her schedule is as busy as any other student.
Math and art are her favorite subjects. She’s taken Advanced Placement classes in U.S. History and Literature. She does homework for a few hours every day so she won’t fall behind.
When she was a junior, she got involved with leadership on the Associated Student Body. She was the junior representative for her Small Learning Community.
As a senior, she’s been a volunteer at Providence Regional Medical Center Everett. She hands out magazines and books from an activity cart to patients. “If they don’t have any family visiting them, I’ll have a conversation with them. I try to make their day by helping them out,” Daira said.
In her spare time she said she enjoys puppies, going to parks and nature walks. “I love being by the water,” she said.
She also has a part-time job, selling luggage at a store at the Tulalip outlet mall.
She’s still involved with MAP, where she gets help with homework, along with counseling and advice. More recently she’s been listening to college speakers and learning about applying for scholarships.
Daira said she wants to start at Everett Community College because it’s cheaper and closer to home. Then she wants to go to a four-year university.
She said she wants to be smart about her future. “College is expensive. I don’t want to finish with tons of debt.”
Daira said she’s not sure on a career, but whatever she does she wants to “do it to help others.”
She’s learning toward being a lawyer.
“I want to help people who come here who don’t have their papers – who come here illegally,” she said.