By MARY CALLAHAN
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
It was barely more than five years ago that Zeltzin Campillo, then a shy middle-schooler, moved to the United States knowing no one beyond her immediate family and speaking little English.
Now an outgoing Windsor High School junior whose debate-team experience and interest in public service have her contemplating a career in the law and, maybe, running for public office one day, Campillo said she considers herself American despite so many years living just across the border.
“I love the culture. I love the school system,” the 17-year-old said during her first break after finals last month.
Campillo is so eager to help others ease into their adopted culture that she’s started an after-school program to support fellow students who are still learning English.
Called TISS — Teaching and Inspiring Students for Success — the Friday afternoon program is designed to give English learners opportunities for the kind of casual conversation that promotes true fluency, as well as support with homework that may be harder to do when you’re not completely comfortable with the language.
“Most of these kids, if not all of them, just go back and speak Spanish to their friends and their families,” Campillo said. If they don’t have the opportunity to build connections with English speakers, “they don’t have the motivation to speak English, and they aren’t improving.”
She’s recruited classmates from her Advanced Placement core classes to help out.
“It’s just something I’m really passionate about because I went through that experience,” Campillo said.
“She’s a pretty extraordinary kid,” Windsor High Vice Principal Chris Vetrano said. “I hope to see her go far after high school.”
There’s little in Campillo’s speech that reflects her childhood in Mexicali, where she lived with her mom and younger sister before moving north and assuming American citizenship.
Her mother had married a Baptist missionary, which brought the family to Windsor, where he is pastor of Spanish ministries for the First Baptist Church.
Campillo attended Windsor Christian Academy from sixth grade to eighth and believes being part of a small school where she was a novelty helped her mix well with English language speakers and learn quickly.
She gained confidence at Windsor High, where she takes four AP subjects and participated in debate team — “my passion.”
She recently was named to a year term as student representative to the Windsor Unified School Board and also attends weekly Bible studies at church as well as playing piano for the Sunday service.
She also helped with a recent coat drive at school.
“I like doing things that will change the community, that we can help people with,” she said.
You can reach Staff Writer Mary Callahan at 521-5249 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
–Lives in Santa Rosa with her mom, Katia De Leon, and dad, Libni De Leon, and 9-year-old sister, Isabel.
–Born: Tijuana, Mexico.
–Music tastes: Eclectic, including Spanish, country, indie and Christian music but not heavy metal or music “I couldn’t listen to in church.”
–Hobby: Plays piano, including providing accompaniment for Spanish-language services at her church.
–Goal: Enjoys being an advocate for change.
–Quote: “I definitely want to be up front and defending people, and that stuff.”