Sports and Schools

Bilingual student strives for success

Vanessa Bernales is headed to Western Washington University next fall. - Betty Freeman photo
Vanessa Bernales is headed to Western Washington University next fall.
— image credit: Betty Freeman photo

Coupeville High School senior Vanessa Bernales, 18, moved here with her family from the Philippines when she was just seven years old. Her parents came here to find a better life for their family.

Entering the American culture at such a young age was a challenge, and her first task was to learn English.

“I had a speech therapist at elementary school in Oak Harbor who taught me to read, write and speak English,” said Bernales.

“Having to learn English was one of my stumbling blocks,” she said. “So when I had to write an essay for college applications, I wrote about that stumbling block and how I overcame it with help from teachers.”

“I feel like I’ve adapted well,” said Bernales.

Bernales still speaks some Tagalog, and has been back to the Philippines twice on visits to extended family there.

Her family moved to Coupeville when she was in the fifth grade, and she lives with her mother Jodalyn, stepfather Kevin Bailey and half-sister Kelyn, who is 8 years old.

Her father Joseph Bernales, stepmother Ashley and half brother Blake live in Oak Harbor.

“I have a big supportive family,” said Bernales.

“My mom is especially pushy about getting an education. All my family believes I can make a better life for myself with a good education,” Bernales said.

Bernales has been accepted at her “first choice” school, Western Washington University in Bellingham. She plans to study psychology, an option inspired by her high school psychology and chemistry teacher, Brian Wood.

“Before junior year, I wondered if I was smart enough to go to college,” said Bernales. “Then Mr. Wood inspired me to apply myself in both science and psychology.”

“He’s such a good teacher, with lots of energy,” Bernales said. “You can tell he loves teaching and he makes everything easy to understand and fun to learn.”

“Because of him, I really like science,” she said. “I want to see where it takes me.”

Bernales recently participated with the Coupeville High School Team at the regional Science Olympiad event.

As for deciding to major in Psychology, Bernales is motivated to “help children and anyone I can,” she said.

“What I’ve learned about mental disabilities has made me feel that if people knew more, it would be easier for them to get better,” said Bernales.

Someday she hopes to be a counselor or a clinical psychologist in a hospital.

Bernales’ mom does adult care in their Coupeville home, and Vanessa has helped out there when needed.

At CHS, Bernales has been active in National Honor Society, soccer, and as a member of the yearbook staff.

In the summer, she has worked in her aunt’s daycare and year round she’s involved teaching Sunday school at her church, Calvary Chapel.

Other volunteer experience includes participation in Leo’s Club, a teen offshoot of the Lions service club.

“At Christmas, Leo’s Club had a bake sale to raise money to give a local family a nice Christmas,” she said. “It was a good feeling to be part of that. I can see that I can make people happy.”

After a July trip to Hawaii with her grandparents and a possible summer job, Bernales said she is excited to start college it the fall. She said she knows she’ll miss her friends here though.

“I’ve had the best friends here in Coupeville,” she said. “They’ve helped me become who I am.”


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