Sixth grade was not an easy year for Jessica Peral. She and her family had just moved to Homewood from Argentina back in 2001, and she didn’t speak any English. “I spent the first year being confused—learning the language plus the academics,” she recalls. “It was difficult to make friends since I could not communicate with them.”
But Georgia Miller, an English Language (EL) teacher at Homewood Middle School, recalls a different side of the story too. “Jessica was very conscientious and intelligent, always working harder and comprehending better than almost any other student I had,” Georgia says. “And I see these same characteristics in her today.” In fact, by eighth grade Jessica was inducted into the school’s honor society.
Georgia and Jessica’s relationship didn’t end when Jessica left her classroom for Homewood High School either. Today, they are colleagues. Jessica is now serving families similar to her own as a certified interpreter for Homewood City Schools.
Jessica did not always have her heart set on working as an interpreter though. After earning a college degree, she pursued her passion for animals by working as a vet tech for almost 10 years. When Homewood’s interpreter moved out of state, Georgia asked her to help with translation on a part-time basis. She quickly discovered that she loved the work.
“One day, my mom told me that I should do [interpretation] for a living. I was good at it, and I love to help people,” Jessica says. “So I went for it.”
At that point, Jessica was trained in the basics of interpretation—from ethics to terminology to laws. She then took the national board exams to become a certified medical interpreter. She’s now one of 24 people in the state with national certifications as a medical interpreter.
And her background EL student is a “game changer” when it comes to her work. “Jessica’s role is there to be an interpreter for the parents, but the kids just light up when they see her,” Georgia says. “She shows great empathy to our students. If one of them is in trouble or if she sees me struggling to communicate with one of them, she is eager to step in and help. She understands the struggle the students are going through.”
It’s those ties that make Jessica so passionate about her work. “My favorite part of my job is getting to know all the sweet parents and families. I love being able to help them communicate and express themselves,” she says. “I have been working for Homewood for five years, and all the sweet parents I work with are like family. They are what makes this job so fulfilling and fun.”
This love for Homewood parents is directly inspired by the love of her own. “My parents are always an inspiration for me. I could always see how they struggled to communicate—whether they are going to the doctor, school or just shopping. I can remember interpreting for them since I was 14 years old,” she says.
Today, the demographic of Homewood Middle School’s EL students are split: roughly 50 percent Spanish-speaking and 50 percent Arabic-speaking. “But it doesn’t matter what language they speak, all of the student love Jessica,” Georgia says.
Jessica encourages parents to continue their support of the Homewood Foundation and the PTOs at each school. “They do a great job helping provide services to EL students, like summer reading programs and college prep help,” she says. “EL teachers are truly special people who work so hard and go the extra mile to make sure their students do not feel left out— and that students and their families have all the tools they need to succeed.
“It takes a special person to be an EL teacher, and I believe that Homewood has definitely some of the best! They are the reason EL students become successful, fluent English speakers.”
And Jessica would know this first-hand.