To achieve the necessary requirements to graduate from high school requires a certain amount of communication skills.
In that area, Derby’s Ismael Perez-Gaspar is certainly qualified. In fact, he may be overqualified, as during the senior awards ceremony on May 12 Perez Gaspar was presented with the Kansas State Gold Seal of Biliteracy in a total of three languages.
Perez-Gaspar is the first DHS student to achieve the gold proficiency by state standards in any language, let alone three (Spanish, Portuguese and English).
Since returning to the states, Perez-Gaspar has been on the fast track to graduation – previously considering doing so his junior year. He quickly got reacclimated and, in turn, helped others in similar situations.
While born here, Perez-Gaspar moved to Mexico with his parents at age 9. He returned to the U.S. and the Derby Public Schools system for his sophomore year at Derby High School.
During his junior year, he found himself in a culinary arts class he was not enjoying. He started to float to his ELL (English Language Learner) teacher Tawna Hall’s class, where he was recruited to help as a peer mentor.
Hall connected Perez-Gaspar with a Spanish-speaking student struggling in math. Knowing he had learned Algebra in Spanish and had faced struggles himself when relearning English, Hall thought Perez-Gaspar would be a natural for the mentor role – something he quickly gravitated to.
“It would be hard for him to make connections or talk with someone, and then learning academic vocabulary? That was pretty hard for [him],” Perez-Gaspar said. “I enjoyed seeing him learn and be happy about learning, and how he was able to solve these equations, graph, etc.”
Perez-Gaspar continued to stop by Hall’s room and kept mentoring students (mostly other ELL students) through his junior year, usually in history or math.
Eventually, he also befriended a Brazilian student and began to help him. With Hall’s encouragement, he also learned Portuguese to expand on the support he could offer.
Considering Derby High School does not offer a course on Portuguese, learning a third language was an effort Perez-Gaspar took on himself – and he is grateful that mentorship/friendship pushed him to do so.
“It’s exciting. I can communicate with him. We FaceTime a lot. We talk a lot,” Perez-Gaspar said. “It helps me even more with my speaking skills.”
Speaking skills are critical for Perez-Gaspar, who currently works as a recruiting specialist for Express Employment Professionals, helping get applicants set up for interviews.
Additionally, those skills could also help in his future career, as he plans to continue at Butler Community College. He has been taking classes through Butler’s Early College Academy in his senior year and is thinking of getting into eduction, or potentially getting into business and helping other current and former ELL students. He has his ELL teachers, like Hall, to thank for that passion.
“They not only helped me academically, but understood my situation. They always encouraged me,” Perez-Gaspar said. “They inspired me, actually, to pursue education.”
While he never set out intending to learn three languages, Perez-Gaspar says he is planning to use that skill to travel more past high school.
Having those trilingual skills have already taken him far, and after earning his diploma from DHS Perez-Gaspar plans to continue on at Butler then Wichita State University.
Already reaching a milestone within his family, he is grateful for the skills and support he has gained at DHS and plans to maintain them.
“Usually in Hispanic families, our parents don’t go past middle school education, and it’s mostly for every Hispanic country. It would not only make me proud, but also my parents, that they came here for us to have a better life and education,” Perez-Gaspar said. “I can’t stress how thankful I am for my teachers. They inspired me a lot. Every time I see them I say think you for everything they’ve done for me, and I just hope to keep that communication with them if I ever go teach at a school.”