By Patricia Nangkal
Ever Preciado has been helping immigrants and refugees in Lincoln for many years.
He understands the trials and tribulations immigrants and refugees face because he himself was an immigrant.
“I can relate with refugees and immigrants,” he said. “I’m an immigrant and U.S. citizen by choice. When I came to the U.S., I didn’t know the language. So many things were different for me.”
Trying to reach America was traumatic for the young Preciado, who emigrated from Guatemala when he was 16.
“I had a fear of getting caught when I traveled through Mexico with my mom and brothers,” he said. “Our journey took eight years as we traveled by bus, train, boat, and cars.”
And he endured culture shock when he arrived in California.
“It was shocking just learning a new language, eating food that I was not accustomed to, and being asked questions but only knowing how to say ‘hello,’” he said.
Preciado knows all about trauma and assimilation struggles. That’s why the family involvement specialist at Culler Middle School has taken such an active role in the lives of immigrants and refugees.
That role was acknowledged last year when he received the 2017 Latino Humanitarian Award from the state Latino American Commission during the Hispanic Heritage Month Commemoration at the State Capitol.
Ana Ballesteros Lemus, a parent of a former student, nominated Preciado for the award because he is inspirational for the Latino community.
“Many kids take Mr. Preciado, as a father figure due to his patience, words of wisdom, job and time that he spends with young students not only at LPS but also outside of LPS is immeasurable,” she wrote. Like Mr. Preciado said, ‘I see my payback every April and May of each year when I see students go to high school better prepared, multiple invitations of former students who are inviting me to their high school or college graduation.’”
Many of his LPS colleagues agree.
“Ever Preciado is a motivator, a helper, a believer and a determined individual who strives to do the best for his school and community,” said Mar’Lakuittia, who teaches English at Culler.
Culler science teacher Lori Morgan said Preciado is always looking out for everyone.
“One trait of Ever’s that has always impressed me is his willingness to fill so many roles in our school, helping countless numbers of people and opening doors to success that might otherwise be closed for our students and their families.”
Preciado, who has been working within the Lincoln school district for nine years, was instrumental in bringing a family literacy program to Culler Middle School in 2012.
The family program, offered by Lincoln Literacy, is open to all that want to learn how to read, write and speak English. Volunteer tutors teach English lessons to adults while students receive homework help and tutoring. Transportation and daycare also is provided.
Preciado said he pushed for the program because he knew that with nearly 62 percent of Culler’s population being of diverse multicultural backgrounds, families would benefit from English lessons. The program helps reduce the need for interpreters, keeps parents informed and encourages parental involvement while also reducing the stress placed on students to be the family spokesperson because they know a little more English than the rest of the family, he said.
“It is very important for us that families come to learn the language so they can read to their kids. We want these families to be part of Lincoln, Nebraska,” he said.
Preciado has a simple philosophy when working with immigrant and refugee students,
When new students arrive from another country, Preciado has a protocol for addressing whether any mental health assistance that may be needed. He asks several questions that encourage students to open up to him. Those questions include these: How was your journey? Are you OK? Did anyone do anything inappropriate to you during your journey? Did you see anything that you did not feel OK with?
“I do this to help them out because I know how important it is to talk about these little things that could be little to someone that does not have the experience but it is a huge thing emotionally for those like me that went through that.”
“I believe the more we speak about some things that are hurting us it will be easier for us to heal,” he said.
He asks these questions to let the student know that it’s going to be OK. He wants them to know that they now have a new life with lots of new opportunities.
He likes to tell his students to imagine that there is a huge pie in front of them.
“Don’t take little pieces of the pie,” he tells them. “Be sure to eat the whole pie, even the crumbs!”
He then explains to his students what eating the whole pie means:
- Learn English
- Become the person that you want to be
- If you feel like crying, then cry; it’s OK to cry
- You will have many choices — choose those that are good for you
- Stay away from drugs and bad friends
- Complete everything you pursue.
“The pie is yours,” he tells the students. “Make sure you finish it.”
“I do this with the students because when I got to Los Angeles high school, there was only one person that asked me these questions and actually encouraged me,” he said, describing his 72-year-old African American teacher, Mr. Reese.
“He said to me, you are new and there are many things here in the city of LA. You have great potential and you can reach the world if you want. Every time you look up you will see no boundaries.”
Preciado said he took those words to heart – and now shares them with others.
“If I can assist and help all of these students, why not start now?”
Mental health assistance continues to be a growing need, he said. He is currently seeking assistance from local universities to work with student refugees and immigrants as well as from community members that have trade skills to share.
In addition to his role as the Culler family involvement specialist, Preciado gets involved in other aspects of his students’ lives.
He spearheads the Lincoln Food Bank’s Back Pack program that is distributed every Friday at Culler. Students in need receive a backpack full of food and vegetables to take home to their families. Preciado collects donated food vouchers that are also given to students in need, two to three times a year.
And he also leads the winter coat initiative, providing new winter coats to students in need. During the summer, Preciado continues to seek help from volunteers and local businesses.
Regardless of the season, Preciado shares his words of encouragement with with everyone he meets.
“Every person has gifts and skills to give regardless of what language they speak,” he said.
Anyone interested in donating, tutoring or volunteering at Culler, can contact Ever Preciado at firstname.lastname@example.org.