DECATUR, Ala. (WHNT) – Decatur City Schools has several academic pathways to help Hispanic Students achieve success in and out of the classroom.

When Velinda Perez moved from Guatemala to North Alabama in elementary school, she didn’t know any English. She says school could be scary. Now Velinda is a senior in high school and on a path to a successful career in the medical field, which she credits to programs at Decatur City Schools.

“The first year was scary because it was middle school and I didn’t know what was happening in school. I didn’t know that many people,” said Velinda Perez.

Velinda Perez was born in Guatemala and moved to Decatur when she was 11. The school district has a robust English language program, which Velinda says helped her adjust.

“What helped me was the ESL program we have here because it showed me that there were other people like me who were still struggling with English,” said Perez.

Years later, Perez no longer struggles with English and is now a star student.

“She is unbelievable! She doesn’t brag on herself enough or give herself enough credit. She’s very quiet, but she’s focused. And she will do amazing in the future,” said her teacher Kiersten Jones.

Another program helping launch students like Velinda, the Decatur Career Academies. There, students have the opportunity to get early training in careers like welding, cosmetology, engineering and medicine.

“At a very young age we try to get students on a career pathway,” said Jones.

Jones is the medical internship teacher and says Velinda is on track to have a successful medical career after high school.

“Velinda is a very strong student of ours. Her being Hispanic and being bilingual is actually that’s just a huge plus in the medical field,” said Jones.

Jones says seeing Hispanic students like Velinda go through the career academy and find success is humbling.

“I think this opens a doorway into a career that they really even know was there for them. They didn’t know they had that opportunity,” said Jones.

And as far as exactly what Velinda wants to do after high school, she tells me she’s not quite sure yet.

“I was originally thinking nursing, then I went to the hospital and I was thinking maybe imaging,” said Perez. “I still have time.”

But she knows whatever she chooses to do, she will be ready.

Velinda says she’s the first person in her family to graduate high school in America and she’s honored to be recognized by the college board’s National Hispanic Recognition Program