Emily Francis, a familiar face from right here in the Charlotte area, excitedly made her way down from the audience as Ellen DeGeneres called her to the stage. From raising her four siblings for years in a shack in Guatemala, to migrating to the United States, to graduating from UNC Charlotte with a degree in teaching English as a Second Language (ESL), Francis’ story would charm the entire audience.

Francis was selected as a guest because of her kindness and dedication to her students. She strives to make sure her students value their culture as much as she does hers. A former Cabarrus County Schools Teacher of the Year, Francis moved from Guatemala to United States when she was just 15-years-old.

Francis and her family encountered many hardships living in Guatemala where they were one family among thousands to be living in poverty. Francis’ mother struggled to get by, selling only fruits to provide for her family. At the young age of just 13-years-old, her mother left Emily to tend to her four other siblings as she made way to the United States in search for a better life for her family.

When time came for Francis and her siblings to join her mother in America, she was presented with a reality check. Francis frowns in saying, “I was a 15 year old with a 6th grade education and spoke little English.” Knowing that much work was ahead of her to adapt to such a different environment, Francis spent countless late nights reading and making sure she understood her homework, only to be mistreated by teachers who thought of her as an outsider because of the language barrier.

“It took me one and a half years to learn English,” she shares, giving credit to both “The Ellen Show” and “Friends” for contributing to her learning process by serving as entertaining ways to learn English. After completing the English Language Arts test, Francis was on the track to gain the credits she needed to graduate from high school. Obtaining the 42 credits needed, she thought the day had come – only to be faced with yet another required exam that she was unable to pass.

Having family in the Cabarrus County area, Emily relocated and enrolled at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College in 2000 where she obtained her GED. During this time, she got the opportunity to work at Bass Pro Shop at Concord Mills. In hopes of a better future, she applied to Cabarrus County Schools but said, “I thought there was no way in the world I would ever get the job.”

Shocked to get the call from Mt. Pleasant Elementary, Francis was given the opportunity to come in for an interview for a 1st grade teacher’s assistant position. Throughout the next eight years, she excelled as she gained experience through working with her students in the classroom as a TA, then went on to complete her associate’s degree, earned a bachelor’s in Spanish, then finished off right here at UNC Charlotte with a master’s in Teaching English as a Second Language.

Francis’ dreams were made a reality when she was given the opportunity to become an ESL teacher at W.M. Irvin School in Concord, North Carolina in 2012. Recognizing her as a deserving individual with so much fortitude, The Chobani Foundation presented her with an award of $100,000 while on “The Ellen Show” to go towards her school’s backpack program. Her reaction was priceless.

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