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Centennial Celebration

Alameda Adult School was founded in 1918, making 2018 our Centennial!

MEET TEACHER Solveiga

solveiga

Our most veteran teacher, Solveiga Rekte, began working at Alameda Adult School in 1986 as a Beginning ESL teacher in the evenings. Over the years she has worked under 8 different principals, Bob Reilly, Bob Reeves, Don Bucheit, CC Perreira, Peggy McCarthy, Tom Orput, Alysse Castro, and now Joy Chua. Currently she is our Intermediate High ESL teacher, working to help immigrants improve their English.

In honor of our centennial, I sat down with Solveiga to interview her and record some of her memories as a teacher and as an immigrant herself.

Why she loves teaching:

Solveiga wanted to be a teacher ever since she was a young girl, attending school in a country where she was unwelcome and mistreated.

In 1944, during WWII, she escaped Latvia when she was 5 years old, with her mother, older sister and younger brother. Her older sister had discovered that they were on the list to be sent to a Russian labor camp in Siberia. Latvia had been under German occupation, but Soviet troops were winning. Solveiga’s family were able to leave Latvia on a German navy ship taking wounded soldiers to Germany. They also took Latvian refugees on the ship. It was the second to last German boat to leave what would become Soviet-occupied Latvia.

She remembers clearly when her ship, the SS Bremerhaven, was bombed by the Russians. “I remember the ship was burning and everyone was panicking. My sister had a little suitcase, and the handle broke, and my sister said, well what should I do now. My mother said forget it. I still remember the suitcase rolling down the stairs.” Luckily they were in the upper decks, so they were able to get on a rescue boat. The wounded soldiers below perished. Solveiga and her family landed in Germany with nothing but the clothes on their back.

They were placed by Red Cross in an Eastern German family who took the family in and were very kind, treating Solveiga and her family as one of their own. When the Russians moved in they moved Greven outside Munster in Northern Germany that had many refugee communities, Latvian, Lithuanian, Estonian, Polish. “There was a lot of culture going on in these camps, we had teachers, professional actors, opera singers. We had our own Latvian school, for the first 4-5 years I didn’t have any contact with the German language.

When the camps were finished, we moved to Bielefeld where some Germans hated foreigners. I couldn’t speak a word of German. I was 11-12 years old at the time. At that time there were German teachers who were good. Some of them were terrible, mean. Especially this PE teacher, I can even remember her face. I didn’t cry or complain to my mother. One day I thought, I want to become a teacher and try to become a better teacher, to help students by showing empathy and patience.”

High school and college in the American Midwest:

Solveiga immigrated to Lincoln, Nebraska 3 days before Christmas in 1956. Her first impression, “I couldn’t believe all the bright lights in the city.” Then school started and “of course it was bad. I had learned English in Germany, I could express myself, what I wanted, but I couldn’t understand anything people were saying.” However, “the teachers were very nice, I didn’t have one single teacher who didn’t show compassion.”

Solveiga recalls a bit of a culture shock. She was used to young people talking about politics, and going to the theater or opera in Germany. “The first month in Nebraska I thought everyone was so giggly, no serious conversation.” There was nothing to do except go to football games. “When you became a senior in high school, automatically all the senior girls had to be cheerleaders. You had to wear the uniform of bobby socks and red sweater, and every Friday go cheer for your team. I didn’t want to go sit there and scream. Every other girl was proud, oh you could see she was a senior, wearing a senior uniform.” She refused to participate.

University was difficult for Solveiga because her “English was not good yet… The first year I really struggled, I almost flunked out.” Luckily a friend recommended that she take Spanish I to help boost her GPA. Solveiga enjoyed the class and decided to major in Spanish and German literature with a minor in French.  With her BA, her professor convinced her to get a Masters so that she could teach college. Once she earned her MA, Solveiga’s first job was teaching German Literature and Spanish I at a small liberal arts college in Crete, Nebraska.

Settling down in Alameda, California in 1969

Solveiga “always dreamed about California. For some reason I felt like I didn’t belong in the Midwest, like I’m out of place.” When moved to California, she moved to Alameda. “I lived on Shoreline Drive. I loved the beach. I felt like I was on vacation all year long.” Solveiga began working as an ESL teacher at Piedmont and Alameda Adult School. She also taught German at Chabot and USF. She remembers her classroom in San Francisco “was like an old library with a view of the Golden Gate Bridge.”

Memories of students over the years:

“I’m still in contact with former students who have become friends.” She recalls two Chinese sisters, “they both came to our Adult School. They were very ambitious. One sister had already graduated from high school in China. The other was missing one year of high school. They wanted to be in GED classes. The administrator said no, she thought they should take more ESL classes. Solveiga intervened and said that she could see their potential, and recommended allowing them to enroll. “They took [classes] morning, afternoon and evening. The younger went and got her GED. Both went to College of Alameda and UC Berkeley to graduate in accounting. They both work as accountants. I still see them. One sister Sue invited us to her wedding. She writes beautiful poetry in English. I was invited to her mother in law’s birthday party when she turned 70, she had written this lovely tearful story for her.”

Some HSD/GED Teachers and Staff

Meet Counselor Loan

For our centennial, I interviewed one of our newest staff members, Loan Mai. She is our high school program , counselor. She works with students to figure out their plan to get a high school diploma or earn their high school equivalency, and to help them transition to the community college. She also can help refer students to partner agencies that can offer supports that we don’t provide (including mental health and job search resources).

Best memory working at Alameda Adult School so far

Graduation was a big one for me. That’s the reward part of it. After a year, you see what all the students you worked with have accomplished. Now they are going on to the next step. I think that’s exciting. That was the best part of my job. Students are excited. I’ve never gone to my own graduation, I didn’t think it was that important. I realized it was a very proud moment.

Choosing school counselor as a career

I didn’t always know I wanted to be a school counselor. When I finished my BA, I took some time off thinking about it, until I started working at this tutoring program, called Working Forward. There I was working with 5th and 6th grader girls. This program was different from other tutoring programs. It had an academic part, but also focused on students’ social emotional needs. We would read a story and write.The writing part was a reflection piece, about how the student relates to the character in the book. The story was something empowering for students, a female character. We came together and shared personal stories about themselves. I figured out this is what I wanted to do, the educational piece and the socio-emotional piece. This is when I decided to do school counseling.

Getting a high school diploma

My experience with school in high school was just OK. I wish I had more experience and more guidance. I went to Oakland schools, and the schools I went to didn’t have a lot of resources. My parents were immigrants and they didn’t know a lot, and they relied on the school system to teach me everything. So I feel like I was just doing the basic: going to class, doing my homework. I don’t do a lot of extra curricular activities, my parents didn’t think they were important either. My 11th or 12th grade year, counselors starting working with us to go to college, and that’s when I saw it was important.

That was another reason why I wanted to be a counselor, I didn’t get a lot of guidance. I wanted more guidance in different areas like careers. When I was going to school they didn’t have a career assessment, which a lot of people do now. So when I finished High School I didn’t know what I wanted to do.

In high school I didn’t play a big role, so I felt unimportant, and I didn’t go to my graduation. I was at home, and I was getting texts from my friends of photos of the teachers, they were taking pictures of graduation. It made me a little sad that I wasn’t there.

Did you have any good teachers?

One teacher I remember was good, this was in college, he teaches philosophy. I think his method of teaching was a little bit different from other teachers, he wasn’t just teaching about different philosophers, he was teaching us how to make us think like a philosopher. That really helped me become more reflective about my values and my perspective. He made an impact on the person I am today. He helped me look at things from different perspectives.  

What’s that on your wrist?

All of my tattoos that I got, I got because it’s something meaningful to me. The ones on my wrist are my parents’ names, because they are a big part of who I am. I chose my mom’s name on my right wrist because she’s like my right hand man. When I was little I thought she would always be my best friend. She’s understanding, sweet, and always provided me that unconditional love. My father played an important role, but was more in the background, always working and bringing home the money.