Polish native Agata Perez, now in her fifth year of teaching at Pasadena High, earned her U.S. citizenship earlier this year.
By BRITTA GAMINO
Pasadena ISD Communications
The red, white and blue-decorated door leading into the classroom shines like a beacon far down the hallway at Pasadena High School. It glows with congratulations, offering a warm and lasting welcome for one of America's newest citizens.
The honor belongs to the woman standing at the front of the class -- teacher Agata Perez, a native of Poland now happily replanted in Pasadena.
Perez, a fifth-year teacher at Pasadena, teaches Principles of Information Technology, a technology credit required for graduation. In her last year of college in Poland, she enrolled in a work-study program which allowed her to come to Texas in 2001.
"I was always curious about American ways," she says. "American culture is popular all over the world, and I was intrigued about visiting this country."
Her first foray into the American work force took her to one of the most American of places --Astroworld. One of the perks of the job, as things turned out, was a husband.
"I was working in the entertainment department, inviting guests to see the shows when he walked by," she says, recalling the day she met Eddie Perez. "After the show was over, he came over to talk to me. He was interested in European culture and had traveled to Europe before."
After her work program ended, Agata returned to Poland, but she kept in touch with Eddie. Between his visits to Poland and constant communication between the two, they decided to wed.
Back in Pasadena with her new husband, Agata began searching for a teaching job. After dropping off her resume at several schools, Eddie suggested she try his alma mater -- Pasadena High.
Eddie, a 1996 Pasadena grad, offered to check things out. On a visit to the school, he reconnected with Nell Huffman, the principal's secretary.
"I was excited to see Mr. Perez come back to Pasadena High School," Huffman says. "He was one of those wonderful students everyone loves to have."
Agata checked into an opening at the school and eventually landed the teaching position she holds today.
Perez had worked as a teacher in Poland, where she received her master's degree in management and marketing and a second master's in computer science. In U.S. academic circles, those degrees have the equivalency of a bachelor's degree in business administration and computer science. In addition, Agata needed certification to teach in Texas.
Perez decided to enroll in the Alternative Teaching Certification Program through the Pasadena ISD.
"I am glad I was able to do the program," she says. "It was easy and the people in the program were very friendly. That's what I like about Americans. They go out of their way to be friendly and are eager to volunteer their help to others."
Perez has been able to share her love of her native country with both her students and co-workers.
"She is one of the sweetest people I have ever met," says Pam Walshak, head of Career and the Technology Education department at Pasadena High.
"We have learned a lot from her too, about the traditions and things that go on in her country. She brings us back candy when she goes, so we get to sample Polish candy and she tells us stories about her family."
On Jan. 18, Agata Perez became a U.S. citizen. She recalls the tears and sense of excitement that filled the room as she and the other candidates for citizenship recited their pledges.
"They called us one by one to come up and get our certificate that shows our American citizenship," she said. "I had my family with me -- my husband, my three-year-old daughter, Milena, and my eight-month-old son, Oleksander. Even though they may not remember what happened, it was a great experience for me, and I'm glad my children were there to share it."
Perez says she is grateful she is able to have dual citizenship in both Poland and the United States.
"The United States has so many more opportunities for work, compared to Poland, which was a communist country until 1989," she says. "The lifestyle here in Texas is so simple and easy. Even though we hear people talking about a recession, it is still easier to find work and live in America than it would be in Poland."
Perez admits she misses her friends and family back in Poland, but says she is thankful for technology that allows her to stay in touch with people back home.
"Sometimes I crave Polish food and my mom's cooking," she says. "But I have been able to find Polish restaurants, churches and stores right outside of Houston, so it makes it a little easier."