A Student’s Plea: California Lawmakers Need to Listen to Kids Like Me. Traditional Schools Give Up on Us. Charter Schools Don’t
California lawmakers have spent the past several weeks debating laws that would seriously hurt charter schools. While two of the bills were shelved this week, others that are moving forward would be disastrous for students like me.
What makes this situation especially disturbing is that voices like mine have not been heard.
I’m a public high school charter school student. I attend Camino Nuevo Charter Academy in Los Angeles. I came to the United States from El Salvador just three years ago, and today, I’m student body president. After I graduate this spring, I’ll be heading to college, the first person in my family to do so. I’ll be going to the University of California, Davis, where I will study biochemistry. My goal is to become a doctor and help my community, and I couldn’t have accomplished any of this without attending a great school that happens to be a charter.
I want my state representatives to listen to me and students like me because we know firsthand how much public charters have helped us achieve.
In El Salvador, I worked hard at school and got good grades because I wanted to be a professional. I carried the dream with me to America, but when I arrived, I realized there were a lot of things that could keep my dream from becoming a reality. I was undocumented. My family didn’t have a lot of money. I didn’t know the language. I couldn’t have even a casual conversation with someone in English.
I was very fortunate that I had the chance to attend a school that had a lot of experience teaching English learners like me; almost three-quarters of Camino Nuevo students speak a language other than English when they start. In fact, because it is a charter, my school has always offered bilingual education even when it was banned in other California public schools.
As a charter, my school does not have to deal with the usual red tape and has been able to create programs and a curriculum that fit the needs of students like me. It is also smaller. That has made it easier for me to get personal attention and support from my teachers.
These teachers have been critical to my success.
When I had trouble in calculus, my math teacher, Takashi Matsumoto, would sit with me after school and tutor me. If I didn’t understand one explanation, he would try another. If I couldn’t solve one type of problem, he would give me another to try. He had the patience to work with me until I got it. Thanks to his commitment to me, I passed AP calculus.
My guidance counselor, Vanessa Juarez, took extra time to guide me through the process of applying to college and securing financial aid. She would stay in the library long after the end of the school day, helping me research schools and giving me feedback as my essays took shape.
My language lab teacher, Sarai Vasquez, saw me struggling to learn English and knew what I was going through because she came from a similar background. She’s bilingual. She was the first person in her family to go to college, and she knew what it meant to have to work extra hard to succeed in school. She took me under her wing and never gave up on me and never let me give up on myself.
With the support of these and other dedicated teachers, I not only learned English, I got good grades. I got involved in many extracurricular activities and landed a prestigious internship at Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center. Most of all, I developed the confidence to run in and win the election for student body president.
In every public charter school across California, there are kids like me. Kids who don’t have papers; kids who come from poor families; kids who have been given up on because of the color of their skin. In many ways, traditional public schools have given up on these kids.
Public charters haven’t.
Instead, students like me have found a welcoming, supportive environment at charter schools, and we have succeeded. Sure, there are students who attend traditional schools who get attention and support as well, but my charter school was the right fit for me and my peers. At my school, 70 percent of my fellow seniors were accepted to four-year colleges. Among them are a number of kids who, like me, only recently came to this country.
We never talked about Camino Nuevo as a charter — it was simply a great school. Our state representatives shouldn’t be trying to limit the number of great schools; they should be doing everything possible to create more of them. When it comes to deciding the future of public charter schools in California, it’s time to listen to students who go to them.
Please, hear us loud and clear. We’re proof that charter schools work. Don’t close them for the sake of politics. Learn from them. Charters have a lot of great lessons that can help us improve all public schools. So let’s work together and focus on what’s important: making sure every kid in California can go to a great school and achieve their dreams.
Roberto Delgado is a high school senior at Camino Nuevo Charter Academy in Los Angeles.
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