Immigrant influences: Steamboat High School looks to inspire next generation of bilingual students |

Immigrant influences: Steamboat High School looks to inspire next generation of bilingual students

On Wednesday, March 22, 2023, Anna Moriconi McCaulley spoke to students with the emerging bilingual program about her experience integrating into the Steamboat Springs community coming from Paraguay.
Kti Geary/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Anna Moriconi McCaulley nervously stands outside the emerging bilingual program class at the Steamboat Springs High School where she is about to give a presentation to a group of students from Spanish-speaking countries on how she found success as an immigrant in Steamboat.

“Heads up, it’s after lunch and they’re teenagers,” Tom Valand, a social worker at the high school, warns her. “They may look tired and like they might not be paying attention, but I promise they are listening.”

As Moriconi McCaulley begins to talk in Spanish about her experience emigrating from Paraguay to Steamboat, students begin to lift their heads from the desks they were leaning on and begin to perk up. For students who are working on their English and navigating a foreign culture, Moriconi McCaulley represents a beacon of hope.

Valand invited Moriconi McCaulley on Wednesday, March 22, to speak as a part of an initiative that began in February where he brings in community members who have established careers after immigrating to Steamboat from a Spanish-speaking country.

Valand said the feedback from students was that they found inspiration in her story and enjoyed listening to someone’s past experience that is similar to their current experience. Valand translated their responses before passing them along the Steamboat Pilot & Today.

“I found everything interesting. I loved it a lot,” sophomore Karina Rodriguez Aguirre said. “I liked the part where she talks about her country and goals for her life in the future.”

“She experienced some great challenges and she never stopped trying, she never gave up,” freshman Yesli Lopez said. 

Valand said the idea came from emerging bilingual program teacher Dani Booth, who recommended the program return in collaboration with Integrated Community, a nonprofit in Steamboat focused on helping the immigrant population.

Valand reached out to Integrated Community, which he said provided him with professionals from Latin American countries who have since become a strong part of the community. Recognizing both a need for bilingual students to establish cultural connections within the community, and lesson-planning time for the two emerging bilingual staff members, Valand got the program back up and running.

Starting in February, immigrants in the Steamboat community, including Araceli Gomez, a Housing Navigator for Yampa Valley Housing Authority, Juanita Rastello, who owns Casita Feliz Bilingual Daycare, and people from the law enforcement and health care fields presented to students.

“These students are far away from their friends, family and culture,” Valand said. “I was looking for ways to help establish community and a sense of belonging.”

Moriconi McCaulley shared the story of her journey to Steamboat, which began with a scenario all too familiar to immigrants: alone, away from friends, family and culture.

She first arrived in December 2014 with J-1 visa and worked in a seasonal industry, where she mostly met tourists as opposed to locals. Wanting to finish her education, she returned to Paraguay. Her boyfriend, whom she met in Steamboat, flew to Paraguay and proposed, and in August 2015, she was back in Steamboat for good. 

“What I try to be to immigrants now is who 2015 Anna needed,” Moriconi McCaulley said. “I know what it feels like to be in an unfamiliar culture and environment that you don’t feel secure in.”

Moriconi McCaulley has worked in various fields to help primarily Spanish-speaking people acclimate to Colorado. She went on to take immigration interpretation and translation classes at Colorado Mountain College, following a two year residency process.

Moriconi McCaulley, who recently became a citizen, also helps others looking to get citizenship by tutoring them.

She also interned at an immigration law firm in Dillon, working with asylum seekers — mostly children and mothers. Now, she works for State Farm, carrying out a similar mission.

“Latin people, we do not have the culture of insurance,” Moriconi McCaulley said. “I educate people every day about insurance. That for me is still very special, helping people navigate that word for me is fascinating to me.” 

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