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SFSU/COM partnership helps students take classes near home

Asma Eschen: ‘It took a village to educate Asma.’

KENTFIELD, Calif.—May 20, 2008—For Asma Nazihi Eschen, a full-time childcare worker and mother, the ability to take upper division San Francisco State University (SFSU) courses on the College of Marin Indian Valley Campus near where she lives and works as a preschool teacher has made all the difference.

The Afghan immigrant, who spent years working in the hospitality industry as a room service attendant and raising a family, earned her bachelor’s degree in Child and Adolescent Development (CAD) last week. Eshcen, 52, a head teacher at a preschool center in Tiburon, was selected to represent the Young Child concentration at the SFSU CAD commencement ceremony on May 18. She plans to continue her studies.

“I came to America to go to college,” says Eschen. “The CAD Program came to me and showed me the way.”

In 2004, College of Marin and two other community colleges in the San Francisco Bay Area, Cañada College and City College of San Francisco, launched an institutional partnership with SFSU to provide CAD courses on each campus. The partnership brings SFSU instructors to COM-IVC to teach two classes each semester.

“The goal is to help students who are geographically isolated from a four-year institution achieve a bachelor of arts degree, to make it more convenient,” said Janet Egiziano, associate director of the Marian Wright Edelman Institute for the Study of Children, Youth and Families at SFSU.

Eschen is one of a growing number of preschool teachers striving to educate themselves in preparation for stiffer educational mandates being instituted in the field. Childcare workers who often make low salaries are under increasing legislative pressure to have permits and certifications. It is expected that California will soon mandate a bachelor’s degree for head teachers as well.

“They have a million challenges,” says Jeanie Jacobson, SFSU/COM partnership coordinator at IVC. “This is small way that we can support them.”

For Eschen, the program offered the support she needed to continue with her education. “I was not quite sure whether I could go to San Francisco State or not,” she says. “They opened the door and said ‘This is how you can go.’ It took a village to educate Asma.”

Eschen’s remarkable story in America began when she arrived alone in San Francisco at the age of 14 to get an education. She lived with a family acquaintance while struggling to learn English at Pinole Valley High School. A counselor helped her apply to College of Marin but it was soon clear that she had much remedial study to do before she could succeed in academia and she dropped out to work full-time. She married and had two children before returning to COM many years later with an interest in childcare. She found her calling working with children. She took one class at a time until she earned her associate in science degree in 1995. Eschen completed 400 hours of student teaching at the COM children’s center and was hired at the Strawberry Preschool in Tiburon where she eventually became head teacher. She taught her children as she learned.

“When I had to take astronomy and algebra, I would bring it into the classroom and ask them, ‘Do you know blue stars are hot stars and the red stars are cold stars? Did you know the sun has a lot of black colors in it too because it’s very hot?’ I would tell them, ‘Go home and tell your parents you can see Jupiter tonight.’ ”

The degree gave her more than knowledge. “When people would ask me what I did for work, I would automatically hunch my back and answer them with a whimper in my voice, ‘I am a pre-school teacher,’ as if I had a committed a crime.” As she took more classes, her physical demeanor changed and her voice. “I learned to take assessments of children and learned new theories. I speak now with a clear and sharp voice. Others now can see that I am proud of my achievement and I share this joy and pride with all my classmates and mentors.”

The bombing of the World Trade Center and subsequent invasion of Afghanistan brought on another life-changing event for Eschen who hardly recognized her own country in the news footage of her war-torn homeland. She soon found herself on a global exchange tour to her homeland and became a public speaker about Afghanistan. In 2003, she co-founded Bare Roots, a nonprofit organization that has planted thousands of shade and fruit trees and roses in Afghanistan. She serves as the agriculture director of Afghans4Tomorrow, a nonprofit organization, nonpolitical, humanitarian organization.

When her husband, who had always been supportive of her education, died two years ago, classes were a solace. “I would say the last two years of my schooling has been respite care for me. When I went to class, I pushed everything away. Other people go get massages, or have their nails done. Going to school was nurturing for me. I learned so much about myself by going to class.”

She has begun the application process for a master’s degree. “I would really like to get a Ph.D. even if I’m 90,” she says. An advanced degree would help toward her dream of working in Afghanistan to set new education policy.

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