By Constanza Morales
Special to The Texas Catholic
Adriana Vasquez arrived from Peru in 2020 with little fluency in English and having left her grandparents and dearest friends behind. Back then, she was a shy girl who used to spend her afternoons in reading resource. She’d have to consult her dictionary every hour of the day to decipher unknown words and phrases. Today, Vasquez shines as one of the top eighth graders at St. Mary’s Catholic School in Sherman.
Principal Daniel Ledbetter proudly recalls the promise Vasquez made to him when she first interviewed for a spot in the school.
“She told me she would do everything she had to do to learn English and do well in school,” he said. “She has far surpassed that commitment.”
For the principal, Vasquez’s story is not only one of being a good role model for other students, but also as a young Christian.
“She has shown that if you have a strong work ethic and you treat people as Christ would, there are really no limits to the amount of success you can have.”
‘The Lord is my shepherd’
Born in Lima 14 years ago to a devout Catholic family who often prayed to St. Rose of Lima, Vasquez is known for her tenacity and perseverance.
She studied in a parochial school in Lima, where she learned some English. She added more knowledge of the foreign language by listening to music and watching movies in English.
“Adriana is very mature for her age,” said her mother, Fabiola Escajadillo.
The Vasquez-Escajadillo family — Adriana, her parents and a younger brother — settled in Sherman after obtaining legal residency by family petition.
“My daughter has a great sense of responsibility,” Escajadillo said. “It makes me proud to see that despite having to say goodbye to those she loved, she has adapted and stayed focused on her studies.”
Her first months at St. Mary’s, however, were not easy. Vasquez became depressed and cut off contact with everybody in Peru.
“I felt like I didn’t fit in,” the girl recalled.
“She was frustrated and angry with us for our decision to come here,” Escajadillo added.
But it did not take long for Vasquez’s perseverance to help her find motivation.
“I convinced myself that I was going to Peru to see my grandparents and friends, even if it wasn’t true,” Vasquez said. “That helped me focus and I understood that nothing lasts forever. It’s up to you not to let anything take away your chances to succeed.”
In those early days in Sherman, Vasquez befriended a neighbor who understands Spanish but doesn’t speak it. Through communicating with this girl, she gained confidence.
Vasquez then committed to her studies and found refuge in God.
“I asked Him to guide me,” she explained. “I let Him into my heart. If you focus enough to show that you are more than what everyone thinks, you will achieve it.”
Vasquez would meet three times a week with the school’s reading resource teacher, Sheila A. Mayberry, who said she saw great progress.
“Adriana is blessed with an intrinsic desire to learn and achieve,” said Mayberry, who also helped her with grammar, social studies and science. “Adriana began showing improvement very quickly. She was highly motivated and always had a positive attitude.”
Due to her achievements, Vasquez no longer required additional resource help for the current school year. Mayberry knows she is excelling in all her subject areas.
“Adriana always said, ‘Thank you for helping me’, every time she was leaving my classroom,” Mayberry said. “I have been teaching for 32 years, and I’ve never had a student do that. Adriana’s heart matches her brain, and I was truly blessed to work with her.”
A bright, curious mind
Vasquez’s science teacher, Thomas Hess, was initially unsure how effective the classes would be for a student who wasn’t fluent in English.
“Adriana very quickly put my concerns to rest once we started the school year,” said Hess, adding that Vasquez understood the concepts and just needed to translate a couple of words to fully understand what was being said. “I would not be surprised to see her becoming a successful biochemist or brilliant artist or an international political figure.”
In her first year at the school, Vasquez won first place in St. Mary’s Science Fair with her project about microencapsulation.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Vasquez said. “I thought I was going to fail because I wasn’t emotionally well, but it felt really good to see how wrong I was.”
Her English teacher found working with Adriana “a treat.”
“She never seemed to just want the answer to a question,” Eduardo Hernández said. “She always wanted you to expound on a topic or to explain something beyond a rote definition.”
Fewer than six months away from her graduation from St. Mary’s, Vasquez is one of the top students in her eighth-grade class.
She recently told her science teacher she wanted to build an analog computer as her next science fair project.
“After I told her that it was going to be a daunting task, she shrugged and said: ‘It won’t be too hard’,” Hess said.
The teacher knows that for Vasquez no task is too daunting.
Find more stories highlighting Catholic schools in the Diocese of Dallas in observance of Catholic Schools Week 2022 in the Jan. 28 print edition of The Texas Catholic.