From Student to Teacher
English Language Alumna Earns BAS in Elementary Education.
Until her mid-20s, Shaima Saleh lived in Afghanistan with a fifth-grade education.
Now, at age 33, she’s graduated with her bachelor’s degree in elementary education and is on the path toward becoming a teacher.
Nine years ago, the mother of three made a life-changing decision to move to the United States, eventually planting roots in Auburn.
“The transition to a new country wasn’t easy for my children, as they faced challenges with language acquisition,” Saleh said. “Determined to support them in their studies and beyond, I made the decision to learn English myself.”
Saleh enrolled in Highline College’s English for Speakers of Other Languages classes within a year. Progressing from English Level 1 to the High School 21+ program, Saleh earned her high school diploma from Highline in 2019. She would earn her associate degree soon after and, more recently, her Bachelor of Applied Science in Elementary Education.
“Coming from a background where I had no formal education in my home country, the path seemed daunting,” Saleh said as she reflected on her educational journey. “ However, through sheer determination, hard work, and support from my ESL instructor, I defied my own expectations and achieved my goal of earning a bachelor’s degree in 2023.”
Saleh said ESOL instructors Robin Ennis Cantwell, Angie Meyer and Steve Howard’s steadfast encouragement helped her believe in herself as she learned English, while John Pizarro’s “unwavering belief” in her potential and constant support played a vital role during her time at Highline College.
“I am deeply grateful for their continued presence in my life and for the profound impact they have had on my educational success,” Saleh said. “Their support has been instrumental in my achievements, and I will forever be thankful for their contributions to my journey.”
Support at home was also essential to giving her time to study, go to class, write papers and dedicate herself to her education. Saleh said she couldn’t have graduated without her husband’s championing, which helped create an environment of empowerment and equality within her family.
“His role in my education has been pivotal, and I believe it is essential to share this aspect of my story to inspire and encourage other Afghan men to support their wives in pursuing education,” Saleh said. “In many Afghan families, there may be cultural barriers that hinder women’s access to education and language learning, even when living in the U.S.”
In pursuing a degree in teaching, Saleh intertwined her love for learning and passion for working with children. Her belief that education can shape the future drives her to her goal of teaching kindergarten in the Federal Way school district.
“By becoming an elementary school teacher, I have the opportunity to make a positive impact on children’s lives during their crucial formative years,” Saleh said. “I want to create a supportive and engaging learning environment where students can develop their academic abilities, critical thinking skills, and personal growth.”
Highline College’s applied bachelor’s in elementary education prepares students for various leadership roles working with children and families in K-8. Completing this applied bachelor’s teaching degree will lead to a recommendation for teacher certification with an elementary education endorsement in Washington state.