When Geovanha Pinheiro walked into the gymnasium to begin her shift at St. Francis Xavier Preparatory School on Wednesday, students were there waiting for her.
Having passed her U.S. citizenship test the day before, Pinheiro, a 43-year-old native of Brazil, was greeted with cheers and clapping from students lined up along the walls.
Students dressed in red, white and blue. Some waved American flags. All of them cheered and called her name as she circled the gymnasium.
“Miss G, Miss G, Miss G,” they shouted.
Geovanha Pinheiro walks down the student-filled halls at St. Francis Xavier Preparatory School for a surprise celebration Wednesday.
Staff and students held a celebration for Pinheiro, a school custodian who passed her U.S. citizenship test the day before.
Pinheiro put her hands to her masked face, surprised at the turnout. She raised her arm, pointing heavenward as she walked around the gym, waving to the kids.
When she exited through a doorway and into a hallway on the first floor, then up to the second floor, the celebration continued. Students and teachers had come out of classrooms to line the halls and applaud her.
Journey to American citizenship
Pinheiro always dreamed of becoming an American citizen. But how she came to Hyannis from the small municipality of Serro in the state of Minas Gerais. more than 4,000 miles away, is as inspiring as any journey. Her brother, cousins and sister came to the U.S. over a period of several years. She was 19 years old and knew no English when she came to live with her sister, Milene, in Dennis.
She worked at a nursing home until she had to change jobs to help her daughter care for her children. That’s when she saw an ad for a custodian at St. Francis Xavier.
“God promised me, he going to send me to a different place, and he say to be prepared — ‘I’m going to change you,’” Pinheiro said. “Now I understand. He changed me from (Brazilian) to American. God is amazing.”
Alongside maintenance director Ernie Christian, left, Geovanha Pinheiro reacts to the surprise celebration in her honor when she arrived at work Wednesday morning at St. Xavier Preparatory School, where staff and students cheered her earning her U.S. citizenship.
In her five years at the school, Pinheiro has made an impact on both students and staff.
“She’s a positive, bubbly person,” said Christopher Keavy, the school’s president.
Those sentiments were echoed by the staff, administrators and students, including Quinn, 12, and his classmate Autumn.
“Even though she has a lot of hard work to do, she always has a smile on her face,” Autumn said.
But Wednesday’s event celebrated more than Pinheiro’s personality. Students and staff wanted to recognize her feat in passing an interview, English test and civics test to become a naturalized U.S. citizen.
“I’m proud of her,” said Isaiah, who stood along with his fellow students in Debbie Mills’ art class to cheer.
“It’s a very hard test,” said Kaelyn, a seventh-grader at the school. “She did very good, I thought.”
Pinheiro is one of about 23,000 people naturalized annually in Massachusetts, and one of about 843,000 naturalized across the country, according to the Department of Homeland Security.
The interview and test are the last steps before she can be sworn in as a citizen. The prospect of the interview and test were daunting for Pinheiro.
“I was nervous,” she said.
Study plans made more difficult by COVID
She had to find the material for the exam on the internet. Prior to the pandemic, candidates would get study guides, including a CD and booklet, in the mail. That didn’t happen for Pinheiro, who had 13 days to study once she got her interview appointment.
But those study plans were interrupted for three days when she got sick after getting a COVID-19 vaccine.
“I said, ‘One more time, God, I’m going to bother you. I need you,’” she said with a laugh.
Pinheiro said she was met by a kind woman and man at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Boston. The man talked her through the interview, collecting information from her.
Pinheiro credits God with everything.
“I tell him, ‘If you give me this, I’m going to put my knee on the floor and raise the paper up,’” she said.
She took the test, and when it was over, Pinheiro got the news she was hoping for.
“You passed,” the woman told her.
Pinheiro won’t be a citizen until she takes the oath of allegiance at a naturalization ceremony. Those have been delayed because of COVID-19 protocols.
“America gave me every hope,” she said. “I’m not talking money. My daughter wants to work for the FBI. This is amazing for us.”
Contact Denise Coffey at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @DeniseCoffeyCCT. Sourced