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Originally published Sunday, June 7, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Class of 2009 | Jessica Pedraza, Redmond High School: Lack of English didn't stop her

Jessica Pedraza knew little English when she came to the U.S. five years ago from Mexico City, but the now-senior at Redmond High School persevered, became fluent, made the honor society, and helps fellow Latino students find scholarships and, in some cases, change their immigration status.

Seattle Times Eastside reporter

When she came to this country from Mexico City five years ago, Jessica Pedraza knew little English.

Today the 18-year-old Redmond High School senior, who is in the U.S. legally, is studying a third language, French; taking Advanced Placement classes in English composition and American government; helping fellow Latino students find scholarships; and doing research to assist some in changing their immigration status. She also is a member of the school's honor society and its Latinos Unidos leadership club.

"I hear a lot of students who give reasons why they can't do things," said her counselor, Ellen Zambrowsky-Huls. "With Jessica I see someone who's striving even more. She doesn't make excuses."

Pedraza faced her biggest challenge when she first came to this country. Her family was seeking better educational opportunities for Jessica and her brother Antonio, although it came at a significant cost to her mother, Diana Perez, who was an attorney in Mexico and now works at a gas station.

Pedraza was enrolled in English Language Learner classes at Redmond Junior High, but she was determined to leave those classes behind as soon as she could. "I wanted to show people I could be in the honor society," she said.

She swallowed her worries that people would make fun of her and "tried not to stay with the Spanish group," the better to learn her new language. By ninth grade, she was only taking one English-learner class.

Pedraza, who is going to Western Washington University in the fall, is planning on a career either in economics or the law.

She enjoys math because "numbers are universal — there's always an answer," but she also thinks she'd make a good attorney. "I really like to argue," she said.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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