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Life for Manuel Solano and his family changed abruptly in 2000 amid threats of kidnapping and ransom. Such violence was all too common where they lived in Bogota City, Colombia, where his brother-in-law was kidnapped and murdered and his father-in-law paid extortion to keep his family safe.
When ransom demands were made of Solano, he fled Colombia and moved his family to the U.S. rather than expose them to the potential for violence and death.
With little time to prepare, Solano, an established psychiatrist in his own country, came to the Kansas City area, where his brother was an oral surgeon. He had to start over.
Solano never expected to find himself back in college; however, becoming a student was the only way he could obtain the visa he needed to stay in the U.S. After completing a master's degree in computer science at Central's Summit Center in Lee's Summit, he now has found a career as an educator in the Kansas City, MO, school district. It is a role he never expected to play, but one he relishes daily.
Solano began his studies at the University of Missouri-Kansas City while tutoring UMKC students in mathematics. That job expanded into working with summer tutoring programs with the Kansas City school district. He completed a bachelor's degree in information technology in time to see the job market slow down for graduates in his field. But he soon was offered a job, with provisional certification, teaching math in the school district, until they saw his resume.
"With my background as a physician, they told me they needed me worse as a science teacher," he said. Solano began seeking a campus where he could complete the coursework necessary to obtain Missouri teaching certification. Central's Summit Center was convenient and had the courses he needed.
He began teaching science at Northeast Middle School in Kansas City, where his language skills came to the attention of the school's English as a Second Language coordinator. He then became a resource teacher, explaining science to small groups of "neo-American" students in sheltered classes.
"These are students who have limited or no English skills," he explained. Solano added that some students in the program come from countries where they have had little or no formal education. One student entered the program without an understanding of the concept of an alphabet.
"In the sheltered classroom, we modify the curriculum for students with limited language skills so they can learn at grade level," he explained.
Alicia Miguel, director of the district's ESL program, noticed Solano's dedication and enthusiasm, as well as his skill at helping other teachers who were teaching ESL students. She hired him as one of two ESL instructional coaches for the district. This fall he began providing support for core subject teachers by modeling methods of instruction that allow them to reach non-English speaking students.
Solano feels life is good for his family in the United States. They are safe, and his wife, a registered nurse, has completed certification requirements. She is working as a cardiac specialty nurse at the University of Kansas Medical Center. His daughter graduated from community college last spring, and his son is doing well in high school. The family soon will return to a level of financial security similar to what they had in Colombia.
Solano is not sure where his career will take him, but he knows he likes what he is doing.
"I've always been a teacher; I taught in medical school in Colombia. But now I'm giving back," Solano said. "When I came here, I was totally lost. At one point I was about to give up because of the language barrier. I know what that's like, and I like the fact that I can help someone else bridge that gap."
By Mike Greife '74