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'Shy guy' learns English, then gets straight A's
The Tribune
Dec. 09, 2003
Michaela Baltasar

Victor Lopez is a candidate for valedictorian at Paso Robles High

PASO ROBLES - Victor Lopez recalls struggling in his early classes at Flamson Middle School in Paso Robles. He remembers trying so hard to understand the teacher that sometimes his head hurt.

"I was trying to concentrate, hear what the teacher was saying," Lopez says. "But it was like gibberish to me. So those grades (that semester) weren't good at all."

Back then, Lopez knew only a few words of English.

His family had previously lived in Paso Robles for a short time and had just returned from Guadalajara, the capital of the Mexican state of Jalisco.

Now 17, Lopez boasts a perfect grade-point average from high school and is the kind of student his teachers love to talk about. He is a candidate for valedictorian at Paso Robles High School.

Soon, he'll be the first person in his family to go to college, where he hopes to study computer science.

Lopez's mother uses the word "tranquilo" to describe him. She says he's a quiet, responsible boy who sets the example for his younger sister and brother.

"He doesn't go out a lot," Elida Lopez says in Spanish. Pride enters her voice as she continues: "He's dedicated to his studies."

The self-proclaimed "shy guy" blushes at the mention of his accomplishments. Lopez says he just "works hard" and never looks for any attention.

Jim Steaffens, then a bilingual math teacher at Flamson, taught Lopez during sixth, seventh and eighth grades. Impressed by his student's demeanor and the interest he showed in class, Steaffens enrolled him in advanced math in the eighth grade.

The move boosted the boy's desire to excel.

"He said he saw potential in me," Lopez says. "Because of Mr. Steaffens, I'm taking AP calculus now."

Later, Steaffens helped Lopez participate in the Advancement Via Individual Determination program in high school.

AVID targets students from underrepresented communities who have the potential to go to a four-year college. The program teaches time management and study skills and helps students complete the college application process. Currently, 140 students are in Paso Robles High School's AVID program.

Through AVID, Lopez tutors math students at Lewis Middle School in Paso Robles during the week.

He feels setting an example is important. He says much of his own interest in school was inspired by watching his older brother.

"He was really good at school, especially math," Lopez says. "I really looked up to him -- every day he would come home from school, go upstairs and do his homework, then come downstairs and play around and stuff."

Lopez's brother died in December 1996, the year the family first moved to Paso Robles. He had been crossing Creston Road and was struck by a car. The grief that followed forced the Lopez family to return to Guadalajara.

"I remember it like it was yesterday," Lopez says of the accident. "Not long ago, we took flowers to where it happened."

His family would return to Paso Robles in 1998, when Victor Lopez was in the sixth grade.

"It was kinda hard," he recalls. "I don't think they planned to come back so soon. But they wanted my little brother to be born here and they wanted to give us an opportunity to get a better education."