The Point

From War Zone Barrio to Teacher

Teacher: ‘I wasn’t scared. I was focused on reuniting with my mother’

Poinciana instructor Jorge Arce has been a teacher for eight years, but as a child he grew up in the middle of a revolution in Nicaragua. Here he works with Senior Jhoseliz Rivera in his classroom.

Devin Holms

Poinciana instructor Jorge Arce has been a teacher for eight years, but as a child he grew up in the middle of a revolution in Nicaragua. Here he works with Senior Jhoseliz Rivera in his classroom.

Arthur Welch, Managing Editor

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In 1985, a 13-year-old youngster in Nicaragua was caught amid a power struggle between two super powers and a revolution for control of the Central American country.

That youngster – Jorge Arce – is now the digital design instructor at Poinciana. He is a rock star among students and teachers.

On the lighter side, students voted Arce “Most Likely to Win a Rap Battle” in the yearbook.

But more importantly, he was instrumental in building the first gaming program in Osceola County.

Now his program is the model in the school district.

The Nicaraguan Revolution

More than 35 years ago, Arce was a child living in a war zone with his grandparents. His mother was living in Los Angeles, saving money for Arce to reunite with her.

The Sandinistas (backed by the Soviet Union) were attempting to overthrow the Contras (backed by the Unites States).

“A bomb dropped 100 yards from our house,” Arce said. “The smell of gun powder and burning flesh is something I will never forget.”

When the bombing and shooting began, Arce said his grandfather grabbed his left shoulder and hurried him inside to safety.

During this time, the Nicaraguan military drafted young teenage boys, equipped them with machine guns and put them on the front line.

There was nothing a parent could do. Another boy in Arce’s neighborhood was drafted at 16.

“Jamie Mayorga was the coolest guy on the block,” Arce said. “He was the first to smoke a cigarette, the first to get a girlfriend and the first to drink alcohol.”

Jaime was the hero of the block.

Arce said he remembers his friend returning three months later in a coffin.

“I remember his sister, Claudia, sobbing.” Arce said.

Journey to America

The time for Arce to travel north finally came when he was 13 years old.

His grandparents said a blessing over him and wished him well.

“I was excited to see my mom again,” said Arce, who had not seen her in three years.

He set out on a 3,000-mile journey that would involve buses, trains and airplanes and take about three weeks. At the time, because of the war and political relationships, there was little chance of being allowed to travel to the United States.

So families had to come up with other means to move their children out Nicaragua.

An arrangement was made with a friend of the family, a man in Nicaragua who was also traveling to the United States. Arce stuck with him through most of the journey.

“I wasn’t scared at the time,” Arce said. “I was just focused on seeing my mom again.”


When Arce finally arrived, he reunited with his mother and stepdad and the three relocated to East Los Angeles.

Arce said that he always saw America as a haven.

He was amazed at things that Americans took for granted, such as carpeted floors, air conditioning, food and freedom.

“I didn’t even know what a burger was until I got to this country,” Arce said. “I just remember being ecstatic when I first had one. It’s one of those small things I can never forget.”

Arce said that one of his biggest challenges was trying to pick up the language.

“There was a lot of hatred back then – a lot of racism,” Arce said. “I didn’t understand why people had to be so hateful. It’s like people forget: we’re all the same.”

Arce got into a few fights in school. Despite this, he focused on getting into college and not falling into bad habits, such as drugs and gangs.

Arce said he even tried to join a gang once, but he realized that the lifestyle wasn’t for him.

“My mom was the first person in our family to get into college in Nicaragua.” Arce said.

Arce said that even at his young age, he knew he was one of the lucky ones to make it out of his war-torn country.

“The last thing I was going to do was throw away the opportunities this country gave me,” he said.

At the time, he was living in a tiny one-bedroom apartment with his mother and stepdad.

Arce said that his only motivation to be successful was that he didn’t want to sleep on a couch for the rest of his life.

College and Beyond

Arce enrolled in Cerritos College and Pasadena City College in California. He studied psychology and art.

He focused more and more on art.

“I always liked drawing as a youngster,” said Arce, who said he remembers drawing vehicles on fire or some other war scene.

After Arce’s family moved to Miami, he transferred to Miami Dade College and then transferred to the University of Central Florida in Orlando, where he received his bachelor’s degree.

Upon graduation, Arce launched a design company with a friend from California.

“Teaching wasn’t my first choice,” said Arce, who is married with two children.

Arce’s neighbors, who were former teachers at Poinciana, encouraged him to be a high school teacher.

The nudging from his neighbors finally worked, and in 2009 he switched careers and accepted his first teaching position at Zenith, a school to help struggling students not on track to graduate at their home high school.

“The first month was ridiculous,” Arce said. “I was going crazy. I wasn’t’ sure if I was doing things right.”

But Arce said he helped one student and knew he had made the right choice.

“If I could get to one student every year, and help them become a little less damaged, I have done my job,” he said.

Senior Andrew Kenny is enrolled in Arce’s gaming design class.

“He teaches us more than just design,” Kenny said. “He also shares lessons he has accumalateded over many hardships in his life.”

Kenny added, “There is a lot I can say about him as a teacher and even more I can say about him as man.’’

Arce said he was not a model citizen in high school.

“If you had asked me ten years ago if I wanted to be a teacher, I would’ve told you you’re crazy,” he said. “But now, funny enough,

it’s the best job I’ve ever had.”

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