Saltwater Portrait

Jhoana Pazmino is a student at heart

Colombian educator at home in Rehoboth Beach
January 16, 2018

More than a decade ago, Jhoana Pazmino packed up her things in Colombia and came to the United States. She ended up in Rehoboth Beach, where she found a new home.

With poise and perfect pronunciation, Pazmino works as a paraprofessional in Milton Elementary's Spanish immersion class. She brings teaching skills she learned as a university student in her homeland of Colombia and honed in the United States. "I like languages and studying them," Pazmino says.

Pazmino grew up on a small farm in a mountainous area close to the Ecuador border. Her father, Nemecio, raised cows and grew potatoes and other crops. Her mother, Alodia, ran the home.

Pazmino grew up milking cows and working on the farm, but her father always wanted more for his son and daughter. "He wanted us to follow our dreams," Pazmino said.

Her brother still lives near his parents, working for a business that sells farm equipment.

But after high school Pazmino sought out the city life. Her good grades earned her a spot at the University of Narino where she studied English and French. By the end of the five-year teaching program, she was tutoring other students in English – engineers, mathematicians and physics majors.

At the same time Pazmino finished her teaching degree in Colombia in 2006, an au pair program visited her university. It was an opportunity she couldn't turn down, she said.

Her sole goal was to learn English. Her first two years in the United States, she spoke nothing but English. "It was my own challenge. I wanted to improve," she said.

Her challenge paid off with a fluency and understanding of the English language.

Alyssa Titus of Rehoboth Beach said she is glad that Pazmino came into her family's lives. "We super lucked out. She was awesome from day one," she said.

Pazmino worked and lived with the Titus family for more than six years; she still considers them part of her family – and so does Titus. They still get together on holidays, and Pazmino dotes on the children as if they were hers.

"She's still close with all of us," said Titus. "I've always thought of her as an older daughter."

By the time the Titus children were in school full time, Pazmino's daily au pair duties diminished, and she began a new job as a teacher's assistant at Eagle's Nest Christian Academy.

About the same time, she also met a new man – Christopher Labar, whom she married in 2013.

Her Colombian family couldn't make the beach wedding that summer, but her American friends and family celebrated the day. "We held a rehearsal dinner for her, and my husband gave her away," Titus said.

A year later, the newlyweds traveled to Colombia where Pazmino's extended family celebrated the couple's union.

"My mom prepared what she considered a small gathering with the family, and my husband said, 'This isn't a small gathering,'" Pazmino said with a laugh, recalling all her aunts, uncles and cousins who attended.

She said her parents quickly welcomed Christopher into the family. "They always ask about him first," she said with a quick smile.

Always the student, Pazmino earned a master's degree in education from Liberty University and also began teaching Spanish and Latin at Eagle's Nest. "I enjoyed teaching at Eagle's Nest. It was a great group of people," she said.

But when the opportunity arose to teach in Milton Elementary's immersion class, she went for it. "I wanted to come to public schools to help parents with translation," she said. Although she has teaching experience, a bachelor's degree and a master's degree, Pazmino took a job as a paraeducator helping kindergartners learn Spanish. She's glad she did.

"The very first day I didn't feel like I was new. Everyone was very nice and kind. It was an easy transition," she said.

Pazmino said she is studying for the Praxis test – required for all public school teachers – in math and social studies so that, hopefully, someday she can have her own classroom. Cape Henlopen School District's recent decision to add Spanish immersion at all five elementaries gives her a good chance.

"I want to be ready next year. I know there will be opportunity, and I'd like to work and help as much as I can," she said.

Titus, for one, is confident Pazmino will excel. "I'm sure it'll be a piece of cake for her," she said. "She can do anything she sets her mind to."

Pazmino and her husband are also planning a trip to Colombia this summer – her fourth trip in 11 years.

She considers the Cape Region her home now. "I always wanted to come here and experience the culture, and I never left," she said.