Monique Segura will never forget the moment in 2000 when tiny Vanessa walked into her classroom for a “kindergarten interview” accompanied by her foster mother.
“Vanessa could not hold a pencil. She could not cut with scissors, and was terrified of the classroom restroom,” recalls Segura, Orcutt Educators Association president. “She had been in foster care for six months with her older sister Melissa, while her younger sister Marissa had been placed in a separate home because all three girls were too difficult to handle in the same home.”
Segura knew deep down inside that Vanessa needed her help. And she knew that she needed Vanessa, too. Her husband Jose, president of the Santa Maria Elementary Association, agreed that the couple had enough love in their hearts to help Vanessa and perhaps her sisters as well.
By April 2001, Vanessa and her older sister Melissa were living with them as foster daughters. Melissa had a difficult time telling the truth, trusting her new family and struggled with her academics and social behavior at school. Both girls missed their little sister.
Marissa joined them in June 2001. She was then 4, not potty trained, and had a vocabulary of just 50 words. She was angry and scared, and experienced night terrors. It was suggested that she, diagnosed with attachment disorder, would need to be placed in a special education living situation eventually.
Monica and Jose adopted all three girls, who were ages 4, 6 and 7.
“We knew these girls had come from a rough beginning, and the odds were against them in so many ways,” says Monique. “I often looked at my girls as having a dark cloud above their heads and each time they overcame a challenge or obstacle, the cloud would slowly get chipped away. The key to chipping away that black cloud was changing their environment.”
Melissa is now 19 and a student at Allan Hancock College. She received $6,500 in scholarships after graduating from Orcutt Academy High School last year. Vanessa, 18, is a high school senior who participates in the school’s dance and drama productions and works hard to be successful at school. Marissa, 16, is a sophomore who plays the piano and volunteers at the animal shelter.
“Our students come from such a wide range of experiences, and we have the power to show them what a happy, healthy environment looks like,” says Monique. “I know we cannot all adopt our most needy students, but we can make a difference in their lives by offering them an environment that can foster learning and happiness.”