During my sophomore year, my high school was almost shut down because of failing test scores. To this day, funding has been cut every year from my former school.
Since then, I have promised myself that I will do what I can to contribute to the cause of educational equity. I pursued my teaching certification in social studies with the hope that one day, I will teach students to explore social justice issues and empower them with the skills necessary to be critical investigators throughout their lives.
I decided to give a year of service through City Year because of its commitment to closing the achievement gap and its emphasis on giving children the skills they need to graduate from high school. I work with fun, crazy, silly and interesting kids all day and help them achieve goals they once thought were unattainable. Some days, my work is confusing and a challenge. Other days, it’s a success and incredibly, unbelievably rewarding.
There is one student who is particularly special to me. Her name is Esperanza* and she is an immigrant from Mexico who has been living in Seattle for the past few years. She demonstrates more knowledge from what she has experienced than any textbook could teach her, and I am constantly amazed by the responsibilities that she, as a thirteen-year-old girl, shoulders every day.
In late December, I noticed that Esperanza was becoming extremely distracted. She would come into class, cry, raise her voice at others, or put her head down the entire period. One day, I asked Esperanza to be excused from class so that she could step outside and take a walk with me. I wanted her to tell me what was really bothering her.
“I feel trapped,” Esperanza cried as she confessed the struggles she was having at home and her school work. Immediately after our conversation, I talked to a staff member of our Diplomas Now partner Communities in Schools, who had been assisting Esperanza outside of class. Since then, I have been in constant communication with the school staff and Esperanza’s parents, entering Esperanza in our after-school program, tutoring her one-on-one in her math and language arts classes, and exploring her goals. It is creating a huge difference in her life.
I talk to her parents at least every other week to update them on upcoming projects. This constant communication and support has helped keep Esperanza focused on staying in school and thinking about what she wants to do after high school. The next step with her is figuring out her post-secondary school plans. During our first meeting, Esperanza and I talked about what she wanted for her future. At first she said that she didn’t want to go to high school because she hated school. I pointed out, “What do you think is possible with only an eighth grade education?”
She put her head down and responded, “Nothing, I guess.”
She loves drawing, music, dancing and cooking, and we have talked about possible careers in those areas. Her face lit up when she talked about being a professional chef. She said, “Ooh, I can cook tameles, enchildadas, mole. Oh, that’s gonna be filthy**.” We both laughed and I promised her that one day, I will come eat at her famous Mexican restaurant. Sometimes, we as corps members just plant the seeds and that’s all it takes for them to start running with their ideas. They just need someone to convince them that their dreams are possible.
I tutor Esperanza one-on-one every day. Recently, I found out that she has moved up from the tenth percentile to the 29th in seventh grade math, which is a increase of almost twenty points in just a few short months. She is excited about the strides she is making and I cannot wait to see her at the end of the year. She is watching doors opening in her future, which wasn’t happening when she was talking about never going back to school.
I know that like me, she will not be another statistic contributing to the achievement gap. And it’s what I work for every day.
Text by Rebeca Juarez, City Year Seattle/King County corps member
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the students we work with
**Filthy: Seattle slang for “cool”.