Paola Corzo of La Escuelita: “EDUCATION ”

I think there’s only one golden key: EDUCATION — Learning the language, learning the history, learning the laws and regulations. Learning a skill, and always continue to have an open heart for learning. Encouraging our youth to go and stay in school, and always believe that EVERYONE deserves access to education. Learning about our dream and how […]

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I think there’s only one golden key: EDUCATION — Learning the language, learning the history, learning the laws and regulations. Learning a skill, and always continue to have an open heart for learning. Encouraging our youth to go and stay in school, and always believe that EVERYONE deserves access to education. Learning about our dream and how to pursue it is the first step towards it.

Is the American Dream still alive? If you speak to many of the immigrants we spoke to, who came to this country with nothing but grit, resilience, and a dream, they will tell you that it certainly is still alive.

As a part of our series about immigrant success stories, I had the pleasure of interviewing Paola Corzo.

La Escuelita is a different and unique learning center. We speak your language, share your goals, and believe that there isn’t a limit to what our boys and girls can do. We also believe in providing our students with the necessary tools for success, without making them dependent on a tutor. My name is Paola Corzo, I am the founder and owner of this learning center. Since childhood my parents insisted on the importance of education. I studied my career as AB540 (undocumented student) so I have a dip understanding of the challenges students’ face and the sacrifices of their families. I worked throughout my entire career and that’s where my experience as a tutor and teacher began, and my path towards wanting to teach. I have been teaching math, English as a second language and Spanish for 10 years, both in private classes and in other learning centers. Today, I have the fortune of running La Escuelita. This is a place where children receive the necessary tools for their academic success without creating a dependency on a tutor. This is a safe place where they will feel supported and at the same time challenged.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

Thank you so much for having me and for wanting to learn a little bit more about me and my project. I grew up in Bogota, the capital city of Colombia. I am the oldest of three siblings, although we were only two before moving to the U.S. My parents were both middle-class, hard-working individuals that prioritized school because they did not have an opportunity to pursue higher education. I had a very happy childhood; I lived in bliss of ignorance while I let all the worrying to my parents. There were difficult times full of violence, bomb-cars, and unsafety throughout my years in Colombia, which eventually drove my family to move to the U.S. But even with the hard reality that the country faced throughout its 50+ years of conflict, I was a happy little girl that spent days with her nose in a book and afternoons playing catch.

Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the U.S.? Can you tell us the story?

The trigger point came when the family’s business went bankrupt, and we were forced to move in with relatives to cut expenses. Eventually, we moved to a very dangerous part of the city, and my mom and dad struggled to make ends meet. The last thing that they were willing to sacrifice was education, and when the time came to decide whether we [sister and I] could continue going to the school we were going to or pay rent the next month. My father decided that it was time to look for job opportunities elsewhere.

The United States became my father’s home in 2004 and eventually ours in 2005.

Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?

We came to the U.S with tourist visas in August 2005. My mother held my sister’s hands and mine as we navigated through airports in a language that we couldn’t understand nor speak. I felt in my stomach and heart uncertainty and sadness; I missed the family we had left behind at the gate in Colombia. And my head played back the last couple of weeks as my mom quickly sold or gave away everything that had made up my life up to that point. Letting go of a radio that I got for Christmas years before was more challenging than expected. Our dreams, goals, and expectations were packed in a suitcase and sent as a checked bag on the plane. The last plane that took us to our new home landed in San Francisco on August 12, 2005. My father was waiting for us right outside its doors. At the age of 14, I understood that the U.S was our new home; I knew that I could not talk to anyone in the airport, and I knew that this was a one-way ticket. I did not know yet that we were soon going to become undocumented aliens and that the American dream was harvest through hard work and sacrifice (at a high price), and it was going to be handed to us.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?

One month after we landed in the U.S., I walked the long hallways of a beautiful high school in Pleasanton, CA. I had never seen a school as big as Foot Hill high school, I have never been in classrooms the size of an apartment, and I had never felt so lost or misunderstood. Walking the corridors of this new school, I came across a Colombian sign on one of the classroom doors. Feeling the joy of a possible Spanish speaker, I knocked on the door. Out of this classroom came a lovely lady, she wore butterflies in her hair and wore an orange coat with a green dragonfly pendant. She smelled of gardenias and vanilla, a scent that would become very familiar to me. She glanced at me and said, “¡Hola!. Soy la señora Primeau.”

Mrs. Primeau is a Spanish teacher, from Spain, now retired. She taught advanced Spanish. She became everything I needed for me. She was my counselor (in the real sense of this word), friend, confidant, and later became an incredible mentor. Having her at that time brought order to my new chaotic life. Mrs. Primeau believed that a young undocumented girl could go to college, could succeed in high school, and could have dreams bigger than her heart. Oddly enough she always knew I would teach, only I was not ready to listen to her.

So how are things going today?

Things are going great. La Escuelita is a beautiful project and business that, with hard work, survived the pandemic. We have passionate bilingual tutors that love what they do and have their hearts and soul in La Escuelita. I am in my second semester of a Master’s degree in Education at San Francisco State University. Combining running your own business plus going to school full time isn’t usually a good idea, but I wanted from the bottom of my heart to give more to my students, so here I am.

Through the pandemic, I’ve been able to pivot my business fully online to support my students while they can’t be in the classroom. I was granted the Facebook for Small Business Grant last year which was immensely helpful to continue providing school supplies and paying my workers. It’s been a tough road, but we’ve been able to successfully support our students during this time. La Escuelita is also teaching English Language Development classes to a group of students at Fairview Elementary School. We are breaking barriers and building bridges.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

La Escuelita has revolutionized tutoring for the Latinx community. It brought an opportunity for parents who do not speak English to get access to after-school education. We are a bridge between families and schools, and we are a face-to-face learning option for students struggling with online learning.

However, we are so much more than that, we are a school that offers English as second language classes for adults. We teach late in the evenings from 7 PM to 9PM and early on Saturdays starting at 8 AM. We teach Spanish to kids of all ages and adults.

We provide all academic guidance for students who want to pursue a higher education for free, we help filling out FAFSA, proofreading essays, and finding scholarships.

We mentor undocumented students, hold their hand through uncertain times and provide hope

We go to school meetings and teach parents how to navigate school portals, emails, and sometimes how to use a computer and check their students’ grades. (for free)

We’re part of the community, we partnered with Tulancingo association from Mexico, we’re members of “friends of the library” in Pleasanton and regularly collaborate with the Pleasanton Museum.

We sent videos, letters, and books to our kids during difficult times of the pandemic and we hope that through love, guidance, and excellent teaching practices we can grow a community of students that value and love to learn. We hope we can reach the world this way.

You have first hand experience with the U.S. immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you suggest to improve the system?

It is time for us to Legalize our DACA students and their families.

It is time for us to reunite the families that have been torn apart by immigration processes.

It is time for us to cut down the time it takes to become a citizen.

Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.

I think there’s only one golden key: EDUCATION — Learning the language, learning the history, learning the laws and regulations. Learning a skill, and always continue to have an open heart for learning. Encouraging our youth to go and stay in school, and always believe that EVERYONE deserves access to education. Learning about our dream and how to pursue it is the first step towards it.

We know that the U.S. needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the U.S.’s future?

We know that there are bright days in our future

  1. We are proud to have a woman in the white house. Kamala Harris is the first African-American and Asian-American highest-ranking female official in U.S. History. We have someone from Oakland that looks like us in the white house and that makes me and all the girls in La Escuelita very, very proud.
  2. We saw our country and community come together and help each other during the pandemic, we are optimistic that people will always help each other grow.
  3. The house of representative recently passed a bill that would protect our undocumented immigrants and give them a path towards citizenship: Tthe Dream and Promise Act.” I am optimistic and hopeful to look at my undocumented students in the eye and tell them that this country sees them and wants them here.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Throughout my journey as a Latina entrepreneur, there have been multiple times where I’ve felt in need of guidance and good advice, sitting and talking to Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and philanthropist Pricilla Chan about growing a dream of educating and providing equal opportunities to minorities would be a dream of mine. Plus, we would love to have them visit La Escuelita 🙂

What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?

They can follow us on Facebook :), or

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this

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