Despite the language barrier, a new school and an unfamiliar culture one Polk graduate is now excelling at a Polk institution of higher learning hoping to pursue a career in medicine.

Jessica Echevarria moved to the United States from Cuba when she was seven, knowing only how to say “Yes,” “No” and a few other English phrases. When she started third grade as an English Speaker of Other Languages (ESOL) student at Highland City Elementary School, she was fortunate to have understanding teachers work with her, ensuring her future years in school were productive.

“I struggled extremely with the language barrier, but all the teachers and professors in Polk integrated me beautifully into their classrooms, understanding my difficulty (and delayed learning) and being patient,” said Echevarria, 19, a student at Southeastern University in Lakeland.

Echevarria is being profiled as part of an ongoing series of students who attended Polk County schools and are now pursuing degrees in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

Echevarria graduated from Polk State Lakeland Collegiate High School in 2017 after attending for her junior and senior years. She said Polk County schools offer a variety of challenging courses and opportunities for students, and she felt prepared academically for college.

She said Polk State Collegiate is “basically completely dual-enrollment during your last two years of high school. The classes given at the beginning of the program integrated students into college classes and taught important skills/concepts to know for future classes”

However, she said she didn’t feel prepared psychologically to go to any university.

“There were so many changes happening all at once in my life.”

“Integrate career-specific programs and encourage thinking about what one would enjoy as a future career at an earlier age.”

“If students were given exposure to how different jobs are in elementary and middle school through field trips, and more varieties in school career academies and subjects, it would make the decision-making process easier when they arrive in high school. This will also help them know how to work towards their goal at an early age,” she said.

SOUTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY

Echevarria started getting interested in medicine while taking classes in the Medical Academy in eighth grade at Bartow Middle School.

At SEU, she is majoring in Biology on a Pre-Med track. She said instead of general biology classes like botany and animal physiology, she takes classes like immunology and embryology, which are more specific to the medical field.

She likes the Biblical focus and small class sizes that allow students to get to know their peers and professors.

“The environment at SEU is the best I could have asked for,” Echevarria said. “Everyone is so welcoming and considerate that it feels like we are all a big family.”

Professors help spiritually and academically, she said. “They are very knowledgeable and fully prepared to equip you with all the tools you need to be successful in your classes and in graduate school if one chooses to go down that route.”

THE FUTURE

After graduating in spring 2021, Echevarria hopes to go to medical or dental school. She said it’s a scary time because the decisions that she makes right now significantly impact her future.

“My present is challenging due to the changes that happen in my life as I grow, along with the challenging coursework that I must do in my classes that push me to see and learn new abilities,” she said.

“And it is the most exciting because I do not know what pleasant surprises and blessings that tomorrow holds.”